The alleged mastermind of the egregious ‘Bulli Bai’ app has been arrested. He is a 21-year old app developer and student of a private university in Bhopal and hails from Assam’s Jorhat. Niraj Bishnoi created the app which put up photos of vocal journalists, social media influencers and well-known personalities for ‘auction’ on GitHub.
All of these were women and belonged to a particular minority religion.
(GitHub is a for-profit company that offers a cloud-based Git repository hosting service. Essentially, it makes it a lot easier for individuals and teams to use Git for version control and collaboration. GitHub’s interface is user-friendly enough so even novice coders can take advantage of Git.)
Although shocking in itself, what makes this outstandingly appalling is the fact that among Bishnoi’s accomplices is a woman named Shweta Singh, who Mumbai Police say is the mastermind in the case. This has parallels with the role of Ghislaine Maxwell in the sordid saga of sexual trafficking of minors for some of the world’s most powerful and influential men.
This is horrific but not the entire story.
The fact that Bishnoi and his three accomplices arrested earlier — 21-year-old student Mayank Rawal, 19-year-old Shweta Singh and engineering student Vishal Kumar Jha — thought it was alright to do the ‘unthinkable’ — hold online auctions of Muslim women — and that this may not be the first time they took such a step is incomprehensible. Underlining this outrageous act is deep-rooted misogyny and communal targeting of women.
Also stunning is the young age profile of all the accused — late teens and early 20s.
Condemnation of the incident has been swift and sweeping. “To ‘sell’ someone online is a cybercrime & I call on the police to take immediate action. The perpetrators deserve exemplary & condign punishment,” Congress leader Shashi Tharoor wrote on Twitter. Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said she has repeatedly asked the Union information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw to take stern action against “rampant misogyny and communal targeting of women through #sullideals like platforms. A shame that it continues to be ignored.”
This is the second attempt to harass Muslim women by “auctioning” them online. In July 2021, an app and website called ‘Sulli Deals’ created profiles of more than 80 Muslim women — using photos they uploaded online — and described them as “deals of the day”. In both cases, there was no real sale, but the purpose was to degrade and humiliate Muslim women. Though the police had begun an investigation into the ‘Sulli Deals’ case, no one has been charged as yet.
‘Sulli’ is a derogatory Hindi slang term right-wing Hindu trolls use for Muslim women, and ‘Bulli’ is also deprecatory. Both misogyny and communal poison seem to have spurred on the accused in the ‘Bulli Bai’ app case. One cannot even begin to imagine what must have been going through the minds of these four youth when they sat down to execute their plan to ‘auction’ off Muslim women online.
In the past, through their social media accounts, many of these women have been holding up the mirror to Hindutva-wadis (ultra nationalists believing in a resurgence of Hinduism) and been vocal about the growing intolerance against minorities under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
What kind of an ‘education’ and upbringing are we imparting our youth to make them resort to such steps, if not for actual auction then for ‘kicks’ and ‘a high’? What kind of experiences of childhood and adolescence would have shaped these young minds to think up such disgusting schemes? Which childhood and adulthood role model did these youth emulate? What was their motivation behind taking such a step — apart from the pervasive misogyny and communal hatred?
All these are questions which we need to ask not just the wards of the accused but also pose to society at large. Are these the kind of young people we are spawning, in a figurative sense? What really is easy exposure to advanced technology, dilution of boundaries between private and public lives, misappropriation of personal information and identities, and callous disregard for all moral propriety telling us about the state of our youth and by extension, our nation?
If there is one glaring fact that the ‘Bulli Bai’ app and before that the ‘Sulli Deals’ case bring to the fore, it is that the life-threatening malaise of misogyny and communal hatred is not limited to any particular gender, age-group and economic background. It has become a serious concern and has acquired terrifying proportions in the years following 2014, when the Modi government came to power and concomitantly legitimised such behaviour among the young and the middle-aged and old men and women of all strata of society.
Some of the views held by Bishnoi on various topics, as evident from his Quora account, indicate that he believed Hinduism is the best religion. He claimed to have read the Bhagavad Gita and even been influenced by Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna appears multiple times in his answers. In one of his answers, he says, “A religion who thinks that increasing their followers would grant them a higher level in the society cannot be classified as a religion, especially those for whom killing other religion’s followers would grant them a ticket to heaven. I’m not pointing at anyone. I’m not pointing at any religion. My words are enough for that.”
In answer to the question: “What is your view on ‘terrorism has no religion’?” he says, “Rubbish!” He says, “As far as what I know and what I’ve seen and concluded is that there is a direct relationship with religion and Terrorism.” He goes on to quote an ‘international leader’ whom he refused to name. “Every Muslim may not be Terrorist, true. But how’s it that every Terrorist is a follower of Islam,” he asks.
In another answer, Bishnoi claims that Hinduism is the best religion as it sought ways to control population when others tried to increase it. “Hinduism certainly was the most developed religion because 1000 years before when people of other religion were promoted to have 7 babies, 15 babies to grow their own football team, Hinduism tried to find new ways to stop over-population,” he says.
“What they thought was-You produce 4 babies, you 4 babies produce 4 babies and their babies produce another 4 babies and no one has yet died! So the entire population would be of 16 and suppose there are 160 families in the village which continue the tradition, we have 160*16=2560 babies in a small village of 16 km 2. They didn’t have copper-T at that time and so they banned the meeting of male and female before marriage. But some people took things in the wrong way and started rituals such as Sati, dowry which has nothing to do with all these,” he elaborates.