Bulli Bai Case: Why Successful Muslim Women Scare the Right-Wing
What makes cases like #BulliBai different is that it makes targeting minorities a majoritarian pursuit.
Much of what the repugnant #BulliBai app incident brought to the public eye, starting with the arrest of youngsters geographically distanced but obviously deeply united in their common addiction to hatred, vilification and Islamophobia, was in the realm of the unfamiliar.
Cyber forensics is a fascinating process or methodology. Sequential, logical, and scientific to its core, it provides opportunities to test one’s technological prowess, besides opening doors to knowledge.
But the recent incident establishes how this regime has shaped ‘trends’ and the methodical way its leaders and foot soldiers select individuals – including journalists – for relentless attacks.
Hatred as a Corporate Behemoth
The awareness about this hitherto removed world dawns only after outrageous incidents (#BulliDeals, #SulliDeals), such as when individuals with a common identity are denigrated. In the latest case, it was Muslim women.
It is easy to get sucked into surfing endlessly on social media, where claims are made that the Mumbai police have “arrested the wrong person”, and seeing posts where declarations are made that is high time that ‘namazis’ are “called out for what they are”. But the support structure of these hate and fake brigades requires scrutiny.
More importantly, it is essential to understand what led an 18-year-old woman, not yet in college and tragically orphaned, to take the lead in a campaign that commodifies and sullies other women only because they are Muslims, have a public presence, and because they draw a line at disparagement.
For a moment, visualise the Sangh Parivar ecosystem as a corporate behemoth wherein numerous campaigns propagating bigotry towards religious minorities function as ‘verticals’ stewarded by section heads and supervised by the board of directors.
Each of these ‘divisions’, in turn, have different sections. Although the #SulliDeals and #BulliBai onslaughts may have different team leaders, their motivation or inspiration stems from the shared ideology of hatred that has been unwaveringly broadcast since 2014.
How Ram Temple Agitation Denigrated Muslim Women
Much of what is considered ‘normal’ now has become such in the course of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, and the roots of the current online slander of Muslim women and reducing them into sexual objects also lie in that agitation, which is now the symbol of the ‘New India’.
In the heady days of the agitation, 1989 onwards, it was commonplace to see numerous wall writings and graffiti proclaiming in first-person slogans: “I am the son-in-law of Babur”; “I sleep with a Muslim's daughter”; and “Zeenat Aman and Saira Banu are all available to me”.
In contrast to Muslim women, over whom the temple protagonist could claim a ‘right’, women at the forefront of the movement, for instance, Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara, were presented as ‘devi’ avatars, a process made easier by saffron robes they wore.
Surprise at small-town youth being part of the #BulliBai cyber drive is misplaced because the Ayodhya agitation remains independent India’s most potent mass movement that drew its major support from the hinterland. The first major success of this movement was the enlisting of neo-converts into the RSS fold of tens of thousands, mainly the youth.
They assembled in Ayodhya on various occasions and were drawn from a large army of unemployed, small-town and rural youth, whose search for identity and superiority often acquired sexual overtones as they came from sexually repressed backgrounds. Women, too, were drawn into the movement, though their participation was less visible and more personalised.
Muslim women with impressive public profiles that transcended their religious identities were targeted back then because they did not conform to the socially stereotyped image of a Muslim woman being ‘more backward’ than males in the community.
Unsurprisingly, for the Amans or Banus uncouthly ‘coveted’ three decades or so ago, Shabana Azmi and other ‘recognisable’ Muslim women were on the list, available for online ‘auction’. Not insignificantly, the 100-plus women featured in the ‘catalogue’ were accomplished professionals, and thereby, a thorn in the eyes of those at the forefront of such repugnance.
The Govt's Deafening Silence
It’s easier to wage targeted attacks now because technology provides cheap and accessible means for it. Agitations are easier to conduct now and they spread widely. There is no need to goad people into hitting the roads – such cyber campaigns can be waged even when a person is quarantined.
Another spectacular success of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was in universalising its version of history as the sole truth.
This process has secured a push by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who uses public platforms to juxtapose Aurangzeb’s ‘atrocities’ with Shivaji’s ‘challenge’, and Salar Masud’s ‘march ahead’ with Raja Suheldev’s capacity to reply with the ‘power of unity’.
Significantly, Modi has somewhat shed his propensity for stark and vibrant colours in much of his attire, a move accompanied by a new get-up that promotes his imagination as the sagely or saintly ‘pitamah’.
While previously, the BJP leadership at least camouflaged its divisive utterances, the entire rank and file today pursue a ferocious anti-minorities programme, with the offensive directed openly against Muslims and led from the front by the Prime Minister himself.
When Harrassment Becomes a Majoritarian Pursuit
#BulliBai and #SulliDeals are not the first cases where technology has been used by ‘rogues’ among India’s 825 million Internet users. But while cyberbullying, stalking and issuance of threats to women are commonplace, these campaigns must be flagged because of the majoritarian backing and social endorsement for them.
Moral policing comes naturally to those who are part of this regime’s ecosystem, especially the leadership. No such check is, however, put on themselves. Additionally, the leadership’s silence has consequences; in the current instance, the official response says only that the law will take its due course.
In the absence of disapproval, the hatred in the mind of those fed on disinformation continues growing unabated. Hatred for the imagined ‘other’ also distracts the masses from more important issues.
Sexual harassment is a universal issue and ideology is no hurdle to misogyny. But what makes cases like #BulliBai different is that it makes targeting minorities a majoritarian pursuit.
More worryingly, the political leadership legitimises civilisational ‘retribution’ by harping on the so-called ‘indignities’ heaped on Hindus during the millennium of ‘slavery’ in the medieval period. Bodies of women have often been the first ‘fields’ over which communal hegemony is established and ‘victories’ scored.
The ‘online auction’ is no small matter and it should not be dismissed as ‘fringe’ activity.
(The writer is an NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is 'The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India'. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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