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I was put up for ‘auction’ by Hindu extremists in India

Indian Muslim women have been fighting the misogyny of Hindu extremism for years.

The Bulli Bai app was used to harass Muslim women. Screen grabs

(RNS) — A few days ago, I found out that I had been put up for auction.

The “auction” took place on an app called Bulli Bai, which has only just been shut down by its hosting platform, GitHub. If people downloaded the app, they saw a background of pastel pink emojis. “Your Bulli Bai of the day is,” read the header text. Underneath was a picture of a woman, advertising her as a prostitute, accompanied by her social media handle.

The roughly 100 women targeted are from different age groups and diverse career paths, but we had one thing in common: We are all Muslim and known for our vocal stance against Hindutva, the far-right extremist ideology driving much of the violence and hateful rhetoric against Christians, Muslims, Dalits and other minorities in India.

As activists, lawyers, journalists and analysts, we have been collectively shedding light on escalating persecution of minorities in India driven by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a massive paramilitary organization, and its political wing, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

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I found out I was a victim after a friend of mine texted me a screenshot of the app, with my picture and Twitter handle underneath. The sheer humiliation of being put up for “sale” and called a “Bulli Bai” — a vulgar slang phrase implying the woman is a prostitute — is hard to put into words.

As an American, I considered myself relatively safe, compared with the activists on the ground in India, whom I admire for their courage and inspiration. But my remove from India is no insurance against Hindutva misogyny, which only requires a woman to be assertive in opposing Hindutva in public spaces before being subject to harassment, trolling and the worst forms of degradation.

This is the second time in six months that Muslim women have been systematically targeted through an online “auction” on the GitHub platform. The earlier version of this dehumanizing form of sexual harassment was an auction app called Sulli Deals. It sparked outrage among Indian minorities for “auctioning” some 80 Muslim women.

Several women received messages from men as a result of being included on the Sulli Deals app, including graphic threats and sexual fantasies that left many of the recipients traumatized. Four individuals have been arrested so far in connection with the app.

As the hours passed after I first became aware of being a target myself and as the numbness wore off, the gravity of what had just happened began to sink in. I had just been treated like a piece of furniture or livestock. It is little comfort that the posting wasn’t a real auction or that no money was exchanged.

Hindutva, which is distinct from the religion of Hinduism, has nevertheless risen in popularity among India’s Hindus, who make up 80% of the country’s population. For Indian minorities, this has resulted in a staggering rise in publicly filmed lynchings, beatings at the hands of Hindu mobs, workplace discrimination, online harassment and normalized hate speech, with a stunning amount of the vitriol coming from the mouths of government leaders.

While all minorities have been victimized, it’s Muslims who face the very real threat of genocide, explicitly verbalized in a recent call to exterminate 2 million Muslims at multiple events of hard-line Hindu “religious leaders.” Since Modi came to power in 2014, Muslim men are regularly beaten and lynched by mobs, sometimes in front of their children. Not only do the perpetrators usually walk free, but they are celebrated as heroes.

Muslim women come in for a “special” kind of harassment and violence. It was the dangerous fetishization of Muslim women that led to their rape during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, as well as during the mass violence of Muzaffarnagar in 2013.

The online abuse we get ranges from name calling to death threats, while offline violence has repeatedly involved the use of rape as an instrument of terror.

My shock and disgust have given way to resolve. Those who have targeted me in order to intimidate me into silence should know that I am energized more than ever to speak out against a virulent, supremacist ideology whose twisted logic requires women to be treated like chattel in order to restore the nation’s “lost glory.”

India has struggled for years with an epidemic of rape, domestic violence, acid attacks and other forms of harassment against women. In this context and the dangerous reality of mass violence against minorities, apps auctioning women cannot be treated lightly.

Online hate often leads to real-life bloodshed. The anxiety I’ve been grappling with on account of being targeted has been unlike anything I have ever dealt with before. What must the Muslim women in India be feeling, when they are not guaranteed any protection from the police or the government, and the calls for genocide grow louder by the day?

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Indian Muslim women have been fighting the misogyny of Hindu extremism for years now, both online and offline. But they should not be fighting this battle alone. We expect condemnations from India’s allies on the targeting of women and India’s seemingly relentless march toward genocide. Although GitHub removed both apps, it needs to do more to police its own platform and prevent this from happening ever again. As a Muslim woman, I am calling on the world to act before it’s too late.

As a Muslim woman, I say: Enough is enough.

(Amina Kausar is an entrepreneur and activist. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

This column is produced by Religion News Service with support from the Guru Krupa Foundation.

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