So, is it fine to auction women online?: A week after complaint, no arrests yet

A week after complaints were lodged, nobody has been arrested for running an online auction site offering Muslim women for online auction

So, is it fine to auction women online?: A week after complaint, no arrests yet

Garima Sadhwani

Commercial pilot Hana Mohsin Khan received a link from one of her friends on July 4. When she opened it, she was horrified to find her own photograph and details on what was claimed to be a site for auctions or human trafficking.

The application, she recalls, had a user-interface like that of Facebook, and read “Find your Sulli of the day”. A picture popped up if you clicked on that. It took some time and enquiries to register that young Muslim women were being called Sulli, a derogatory term used by right wing Hindu trolls.

The app, hosted by GitHub, had been functioning since mid-June and was taken down only after there was public outrage after Khan filed an FIR with Noida Police. The women targeted by the app, she recalls, didn’t fit into the popular image of conservative Muslim women; many of them were successful professionals, outgoing and outspoken.

A similar incident had been reported in May as well. A YouTube channel, hosted by “Liberal Doge”, livestreamed an auction of Pakistani women. They had stolen the photos of these women from their Twitter accounts. A few Indian Muslim women were also featured, again without their knowledge.

Hasiba Amin, the social media coordination of the Congress party, was one of these women. She says, “It made me feel extremely violated and shook me up. I am immune to harassment because I’ve been vocal against the government. But in this case, they dehumanised me.” She says that seeing herself being talked about as an object in third person, was a horrible and disgusting experience.

Amin too filed a complaint with the cyber crime unit online. But although three months have passed since then, police investigation is still on. Amin believes if police had taken the complaint seriously back then, possibly the “Sulli Deals” incident wouldn’t have happened.

She says that perpetrators in both the cases seem to be known to each other. She had tracked down one Jha, the host of the “Liberal Doge” channel.

These online harassments, she apprehends, could translate into physical violence. “I don’t know if my neighbour’s son was watching that livestream and whether he might just be provoked to pounce on me someday,” she says.

Khadija Khan, a Delhi-based-lawyer, agrees. Appropriate action needs to be taken by the police and soon, she stressed. Police can easily track down IP addresses and track these people. She adds, “If the authorities are determined they can certainly nip such acts in the bud. The courts also have the power to direct such offensive content to be taken down and impose strict punishment on the perpetrators. This incident clearly violates Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code.”

Amin adds that after the livestream incident, for some days the alleged perpetrators kept mocking her on Twitter. She feels they were testing waters, beginning with Pakistani women and now directly attacking Muslim women in India. “It’s virtual trafficking,” says she.

Alhough Twitter locked the accounts of those she reported against, it was only for a short while, and were restored after they deleted the offending tweets.

“Social media platforms need to take tougher measures and calibrate their response. They need to be far more sensitive and report the accounts to the police for appropriate action. They also need to do more to protect women and strengthen the tools to detect and take down offensive content as soon as they are uploaded. Banning such individuals from their platforms could also prove effective,” Khadija Khan suggested.

What is the status of the investigation though? And why have Delhi Police not acted yet? Several Delhi Police officers in the Cyber Crime Division were contacted but they declined to speak on the subject.

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Published: 16 Jul 2021, 3:36 PM