By Sanyogita Singh
Aumkareshwar Thakur, a 26-year-old web developer from Indore, is the creator of ‘Sulli Deals’ while Niraj Bishnoi, a 20-year-old engineering student, is the creator of ‘Bulli Bai’. Both ‘Sulli Deals’ and ‘Bulli Bai’ are apps created to host fake auctions for very real, accomplished, opinionated women, most of them, Muslim.
What motivates young, educated people like this duo to methodically launch a campaign to attack and malign the image of hundreds of women? It’s true that the anonymity offered by technology and social media has enabled an army of faceless trolls to unleash their worst impulses on anyone they disagree with or identify as the other. From a deplorable Instagram group called ‘Bois Locker Room’ using morphed images of girls without their consent and then exchanging lewd comments about the same to India’s celebrated cricketer Virat Kohli’s infant daughter receiving rape threats on account of her father standing up for his Muslim teammate, the social media space is teeming with shameless aggressors. However, the systematic and organised targeting of a particular religious and gender group online must be seen within the larger social context of the real world.
Between December 17 and 19, 2021, calls for Muslim genocide were made at two separate events in Haridwar and Delhi according to a plea being heard by the supreme court. The theme of these events was: ‘Islamic Bharat mein Sanatan ka Bhavishya’. A few days later a seer from Madhya Pradesh was arrested in Chhattisgarh for his controversial speech hailing Nathuram Godse for having assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. He also allegedly declared that the aim of Islam was to capture India through politics. In Karnataka’s Tumakuru district, a group of men barged into a Hindu family’s home and disrupted Christmas celebrations, accusing them of having converted from their faith. They particularly cornered the women for not wearing Hindu symbols of matrimony such as sindoor and mangalsutra. While they were given a fitting response by the women themselves, this was only one of many disruptions caused by Hindu groups on the occasion of Christmas.
There’s a sinister thread that connects overtly illegal campaigns against a particular religion or gender to systematic legal approaches such as the anti-conversion laws now in force in a number of Indian states. This thread is the dehumanization of the minority. Dehumanization begins with identifying a clear ‘other’, one who isn’t a part of the perpetrator’s personal identity. It then leads to viewing the ‘other’ as less than equal, a lesser human so to speak. This process becomes more pronounced when multiple minority identities overlap as in the case of Muslim women. The needs, wants, rights, dignity of this ‘subhuman’ group begin to lose value in the eyes of the dominant group. This distancing of the ‘subhuman’ group from the dominant, ‘fully human’ group makes the injustices and atrocities then committed on them more palatable, not only in the eyes of the perpetrator but the society at large.
The dehumanization of women has been an ongoing process since the beginning of settled societies. The fight for equality in education, equal pay for equal work, autonomy over their own bodies, freedom to choose their own partners is still far from won. For instance, the concept of ‘love jihad’ propagates the idea of adult women not being capable of choosing their own partners because of their presumed gullibility and their ability to fall easy prey to the proselytising designs of men from other religions. No religious, race, caste or class group is free of this malaise. While this relegation of women to the position of second-class citizens is a ubiquitous phenomenon, women belonging to minority religious, race and caste groups find themselves at an even greater disadvantage.
Both ‘sulli’ and ‘bulli bai’ are Islamophobic slurs used for Indian Muslim women. By addressing Muslim women by such derogatory terms, and auctioning them off as ‘maids’, these perpetrators attempt to shrink the identities of these women down to devalued instrumental groups in society not fit to be seen as equals or even as full-fledged humans. Such largescale attacks are not aimed at settling individual personal scores, another phenomenon rampant on social media, but to systematically demean a particular religious group, thereby enhancing the insecurities already present among them.
While arrests have been made in both of the above listed cases and the investigation is ongoing, these cases are mere symptoms of a deeper rot: growing religious intolerance. Conflict of any kind, from local turf battles to full-fledged wars, always disproportionately impact the women. If we hope to relieve our society of these egregious symptoms attacking our women, we must treat the source. Therefore, no matter how many laws we bring in to regulate the online space, only a more tolerant and egalitarian real world can lead the way towards a safer virtual world.
Sanyogita Singh is a freelance journalist with degrees in Sociology and Economics.
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