Muslim women put up for sale in bogus ‘auction’ in India
NEW DELHI: Indian police are investigating how dozens of Muslim women were offered for sale in bogus online “auctions” without their knowledge, in a case which victims say illustrates growing Islamophobia through the country.
Photos of more than 80 women have reportedly been uploaded in recent weeks to GitHub, an open platform for software development, under the headline “Sulli deal of the day.” “Sulli” is derogatory slang for Muslim women.
Airline pilot Hana Mohsin Khan was alerted last week by a friend who directed her to a link that led to a gallery of images of women.
“The fourth photo was mine. They were literally auctioning me off as their slave for the day,” Khan told AFP.
“It chills me. From that day until today, I’m just in a constant state of anger,” she said.
GitHub said it has now suspended users’ accounts, claiming they violated its policies on harassment, discrimination and incitement to violence.
Delhi police have filed charges – but against strangers because they do not know the identity of the perpetrators.
Sania Ahmad, 34, who also found herself “for sale” last week, points to what she calls an online troll army of Hindu fanatics in India that has proliferated in recent years.
They have become adept at harassing people, including journalists and activists, with thousands of abusive posts to the point that some are closing their social media accounts.
Many of India’s 170 million Muslims say they feel like second-class citizens since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party came to power in 2014.
A series of lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs for the purported protection of cows – a sacred animal to many Hindus – and other heinous crimes have sowed fear and despair in the community.
Indian journalist Fatima Khan, who was also among the women targeted on GitHub, said the bogus “auction” fits into this pattern.
“How is that acceptable? What will be the punishment, if any, inflicted on the people who made this list? She tweeted.
“Muslim men are lynched, Muslim women are harassed and sold online. When will this end?”
Online harassment of women and girls – including threats of violence, rape, and manipulated porn images – is a huge problem, not just in India.
A 2020 survey by Plan International in the UK of 14,000 girls in 31 countries found that more than half had experienced such treatment.
“Rather than free and empowered to express themselves online, girls are too often harassed, abused and kicked out of online spaces,” he said.
In India, Muslim women are a particular target, said Ahmad, 34, who works for an Indian media company.
“It starts with petty abuse and turns into threats of death and rape,” she told AFP.
“I have 782 screenshots of abuse – mostly on Twitter – directed at me. And these are only from last year.”
The authors, she believes, have “political backing” as part of a growing trend of ugly Islamophobia under India’s Hindu nationalist government.
The government has not commented on the latest scandal. He denies being anti-Muslim.
Ahmad sent a legal notice to Twitter reporting several derogatory posts, but no action was taken, she said. Twitter has not commented on the matter.
The victims in the latter case included researchers, analysts, artists and journalists, according to the National Commission for Women.
“The women targeted here don’t fit their idea of a typical Muslim victim – submissive, burka-clad and abused. When we don’t adjust to that, they want to silence us,” Khan said.
Ahmad, whose heart is now racing every morning before checking his phone, said the abuse was also aimed at insulting Muslim men.
“When you want to attack someone, you attack the women of the house. That’s the sore spot,” she said.