On 1 January 2022, I was one of the hundreds of Indian Muslim women who woke up to find themselves being 'sold' on an online auctioning app called 'Bulli Bai' – Your Deal of the Day.'
Our photos were pulled from our social media accounts and uploaded to this app. This is the second time in less than six months that something similar has happened.
No arrests were made in the preceding event.
Apology and Apologist
Surprisingly, the Mumbai Police and the Delhi Police arrested four persons in less than a week, all of whom are purportedly between the ages of 18 and 21.
With the arrests, however, came the apologists.
One of the alleged perpetrators in this case is a young girl who has never met the Muslim women who were targeted – she knew nothing about us, our background, or our struggles. Nonetheless, she chose to subject us to such an ordeal.
When the identity of the 18-year-old accused woman was revealed, many assumed she deserved sympathy because she had lost her parents at a young age – she lost her father to COVID-19 last year and her mother to cancer before that, and she belongs to an economically weak background.
But does this absolve her of her hate crime? No, absolutely not.
And, when a well-known Muslim figure, such as lyricist Javed Akhtar, expresses 'compassion and forgiveness' for this young accused, the discussion of Hindu radicalisation becomes derailed.
Because Akhtar is not the victim in this case, he does not have the authority to decide how the alleged perpetrator should be dealt with. His point of view is shallow, and when such arguments gain traction, radicalised Hindus find it easier to harm Muslims.
Shouldn't I & Other Victims Have a Say?
It wasn't just Akhtar who expressed sympathy for the young accused; there were others as well.
They were the well-known right-wing trolls attempting to exonerate the accused of her hate crime. The same trolls demanded a sedition case against Disha Ravi, a 21-year-old climate activist, for her alleged toolkit, and rejoiced when young students at Jamia, JNU, and AMU were lathi-charged for protesting against CAA-NRC. These same people didn't say anything when Junaid, a 15-year-old, was lynched.
And none of these apologists are the victims here, they were not the ones who were humiliated, yet they decided to have an opinion on how the accused should be punished.
Shouldn't I and the other victims have a say in this?
If the accused is mature enough to dehumanise us and decide to auction us off, if the accused is mature enough to vote, if the accused is mature enough to obtain a driver's licence, and if the accused is mature enough to marry, then why aren't they mature enough to face punishment?
The discussion should have centred around what caused those young, educated minds to become radicalised.
But let us now flip the script: what if the accused were Muslims? Do you think we would be having this conversation?
Why Were We Targeted?
So what compelled a Hindu woman and Hindu men to put us up for auction online? Was it because we are so vocal?
Muslim women in India have long been harassed and objectified, and this isn't a new occurrence. A Muslim woman is seen as subservient, veiled, and there is a notion that she should be silent.
But we, the targeted Muslim women, defy this notion; we are the ones who have been vocal and critical of the current regime; we have condemned the establishment for its atrocities against minorities and anti-Muslim hate crimes; and we refuse to submit to the nationalist government. We are the voices of the educated modern Indian Muslim women.
This was a premeditated anti-Muslim attack, an assault on our identity, and nothing less. We are not exaggerating when we say that Indian Muslims are in danger. This is not a movie; it is our reality, taking place in our own country, where we are fighting for a voice.
The ramifications of such an attack result in self-censorship on social media. Anybody can freely express themselves on the internet, but the right-wing majority expects us Muslim women to limit our expression.
The accused did not physically attack us, but they intended to wage a psychological warfare against us. Such crimes are committed in order to keep Muslims from freely expressing themselves, as well as to instil fear and insecurity in the community. In a patriarchal society, women are regarded as less valuable, but Muslim women are regarded as a minority within a minority.
We are viewed as unworthy victims, owing primarily to Islamophobia, but also to a patriarchal environment in which the majority believes they have control over our bodies.
Don't Normalise This Radicalisation
We are fully aware of individuals who target us and send us abuses because we live in the internet age; they are the ones who call themselves "proud Hindu nationalists" and refer to us as "jihadi," "mulli," and other disparaging terms.
So it is more important to understand why the accused should be punished if found guilty, because their crime reveals how deep the communal rot runs in our society.
The people in power and the majority should not normalise this radicalisation; we are human beings with emotions, and no one has the right to take away our dignity.
The Rising Radicalisation: The Debate That Should Actually Matter
When 21-year-old students use their education to develop an app to spread anti-Muslim hatred, one realises that the poison they were fed as children has transformed into a venomous snake.
Anti-Muslim hatred has been systematically instilled in them throughout their childhood by their families and other agents; mainstream media that regularly spews poison against Muslims, politicians who pit the Ram temple against development, and people in power who justify killing Muslims. Perhaps the guiltiest are those of the majority community who choose to remain silent when people like me are dehumanised on a daily basis.
I wasn't surprised to learn that one of the accused was a young woman; why should anyone be? Aren't we supposed to understand by now that Hindutva radicalisation has become emboldened and accepted in this country? The root cause of this problem dates back hundreds of years.
The term "Hindu radicalisation" became popular in the 1980s; Hindu radicals consider themselves to be more Indian than anyone else.
“Most of those considered to be Hindu radicals — people who have lynched non-Hindus on the grounds of religion, for instance — harbour no desire for Hindu expansion or theocracy in the world. They seek, instead, to reclaim India for Hindus, and stress India’s Hindu character or establish a Hindu state in India. Their ideology is neither rooted nor based on religion but, instead, on virulent revanchist communalism.”
The current regime has played a significant role in facilitating this radicalisation.
The Ever-Growing Impunity
During the CAA-NRC protests in Delhi, when the communal violence broke out, certain BJP leaders issued an open warning to the protesters, emboldening other right-wing supporters.
Impunity has grown to the point where outright appeals for genocide and the use of firearms against Muslims were made during a 'Dharam Sansad' in Haridwar.
Right-wing radicals in Pataudi, Haryana, organised an anti-Muslim Mahapanchayat in July 2020. The organisers of the event demanded the abduction of Muslim women. It was attended by thousands of people. Even though a complaint was filed against the organisers and those who gave hate speeches, no one was arrested.
This isn't some subtle Islamophobe we encounter every day; this is full-fledged hatred.
When Muslim women are begging you to raise your voices against the anti-Muslim attack, we do not want your demeaning silence; we want our country's leadership to act, to make us feel protected.
Indian Muslims have been made to feel like second-class citizens since the current regime came to power. We have faced innumerable anti-Muslim attacks.
‘Bulli Bai’ should be a message for the majority on what social media and toxic polarisation can do to young hateful minds.
We need solidarity now, not appropriation; the majority needs to recognise that the rot is living among them — in their neighbourhood, WhatsApp groups, and families. This crime should serve as a wake-up call for the majority, allowing them to see how Muslim women are being harmed. Inaction and a refusal to acknowledge the alleged perpetrators' intention will only serve to motivate them.
(Arshi Qureshi is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She tweets . This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)