Indian women journalists ‘auctioned off’ on sexist and discriminatory website

“It started on January 1,” said Ismat Ara, a journalist who works for Thread news site. “A friend of mine sent me a picture and I opened it thinking it was a Happy New Year wish, but it wasn’t. It was quite shocking to see my photo there. Underneath his photo were the words: “Your BulliBai of the day. “

“BulliBai” is the name of the app touting itself as a special type of auction house that appeared on January 1 on GitHub, a popular software development platform in India, and has been widely downloaded since then. Term of unclear origin – it refers to a penis in southern India and a maid in northern India – “Bulli Bai” is now an insult to Muslim women across the country, a insult widely used by online trolls who support the Hindu nationalist right.

Photos of hundreds of women – stolen from their social media accounts – and personal information about them were posted on the app as if they were “auctioned off” or “made available” to users of the network. ‘application. Among the victims are many journalists like Ismat Ara.


Ara told RSF she had filed a complaint about the app. “In my complaint, I called it a conspiracy because it is also a kind of coordinated attack against a type of Muslim woman,” she said. “It’s very dehumanizing – people commodify you, objectify you.”

The outcry in India was such that Microsoft, the owner of GitHub, withdrew the app and India’s Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, Ashwini Vaishnaw, said in a statement. Tweeter on January 2 that the police were examining him. Mumbai police announced this morning that a first arrest had been made.

“The emergence of this kind of application, offering to make women journalists available to its users as if they were objects, is absolutely frightening,” said Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific office. “We urge the Indian authorities to do whatever is necessary to bring those responsible for these applications to justice. To do nothing would be tantamount to condoning a form of extremely violent harassment, a form of intimidation that discriminates against an entire sector of the journalistic community and exposes those targeted to potential physical assault.

No place in public life

Ara told RSF: “As a journalist, it becomes risky to have images like this circulating because I am in the field a lot. What if people hurt me physically? I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else.

This phenomenon is all the more shocking as this is not the first time that Muslim women journalists have been “auctioned off” on social networks. Like RSF reported At the time, an app almost identical to BulliBai called “SulliDeals” appeared on GitHub in July 2021. “Sulli” is yet another degrading term for Muslim women widely used by far-right activists linked to fundamentalism Hindu.

The imprint website editor Fatima khan, who was one of several reporters advertised as the “deal of the day” on SulliDeals, describe the effect of this particularly shocking form of harassment on RSF. “The common thread between all the targets is that they are all Muslim women who speak out and are not afraid to speak out,” she said. “The idea is to humiliate them and send the message that they have no place in public life.

The most virulent women journalists are the preferred targets of the trolls who use these applications. “It has happened to me for four to five years now”, well known Radio Mirchi presenter Sayema told RSF. “With the morphing of my photos and the use of non-diplomatic language, this method of silencing a woman is nothing new. It’s like they want to put me back in my place after I’ve been pretty virulent on Twitter.


Users of this kind of application seem to think that a certain category of people should not be allowed to be journalists. “In India, we have seen an increase in community targeting,” Sayema ​​said. “Everything in you is targeted – first, you are a woman, second, you are a Muslim, and third, you are a popular and progressive liberal voice. ”

The most worrying aspect, according to her, is the impunity that accompanies the emergence of this phenomenon. “In July there were systematic auctions and that should have been a wake-up call, but nothing happened,” she said. Complaints were lodged with the police, “but what happened next? she asked.

No one has been charged and no one has been arrested. This lack of complicit reaction from the authorities encourages those responsible for the harassment, who are steeped in the climate of hatred towards the Muslim minority in India maintained by supporters of the Hindutva. Hindutva is the Hindu nationalist ideology that gave birth to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the party led by Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister since 2014.

Vicious circle

For journalists from these minorities, especially women journalists, a vicious circle is slowly but surely closing in on them. Harassment, impunity, intimidation, self-censorship, silence …

Hida Beg, who writes for The quintet, described this mechanism on Twitter. “You didn’t do anything to stop it last time, and here it is.” I censored myself, I hardly speak here anymore, but all the same, I am sold online, I am given “offers”.

Quratulan Rehbar, a Muslim-majority freelance journalist from Kashmir who was among those offered for sale on BulliBai, experienced the devastating effects of this harassment very personally.

“I come from a conservative society, but I felt it was something we needed to talk about,” she said. “This is a serious problem and I thought I should tell someone who is also a victim that he is not alone. But I couldn’t tell my mother. She explained that her mother had recently asked her, “Do you think there is anything else you should do? The implication was that she would have to quit journalism for her personal safety.” I have no hope, “Rehbar added.

India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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