You all must be familiar with the “Sulli Deals” controversy that came to light back in July 2021, where several muslim women were being auctioned online in an app and website known as “Sulli Deals” in which women were being shown as “Deals of the day”. The same was being tweeted as well and it came to light when some women who were amongst those who were being auctioned, saw their images being shared across social media along with derogatory comments and they lodged FIRs against the same to initiate state action.
Fast forward to January 2022 and it seems that there was no affect on the people who are hiding behind fake usernames and committing these crimes. During the new year weekend, twitter was flooded with pictures of several women (mostly muslims) with captions such as “Your bulli bai of the day” etc. and hashtags such as #Bullideals #sullideals #BulliBai. To everyone’s horror, once again, women were being auctioned online on the “Bulli Bai” app and website platform.
WHAT IS BULLI BAI?
Both the “Sulli Deals” and the “Bulli Bai” apps are based on an open-source US based platform- GitHub. Photos of women available on the public platforms are stolen and uploaded on these apps for a Fake online auction. Although, the number of users for this app were very less, it became viral after the tweets and photos were posted on twitter. You must be wondering that maybe through this app, people bid money and get women in return but as of now, no such case has been reported as all of this is nothing but a way to humiliate women who raise their voices on public platforms. Many notable female journalists and other influential women who are popular on social media such as Rana Ayyub (The Washington Post), Hiba Beg (Women’s Rights Activist), Fatima Khan (The Quint) and many more have been targeted by the makers of this app.
HOW DID THIS APP SURFACE?
After the controversy broke out on the new year weekend and police complaints were filed by various women who are being targeted on this app, the police started its investigation.
IT Minister Ashwani Vaishnaw said that the govt. in coordination with the police and the India Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) is working hard to get to the bottom of this issue.
A journalist filed a police complaint after finding her own picture on the Bulli Bai app and claimed that photos of famous women were deliberately chosen with the idea of "insulting and outraging their modesty by making sexually tinged remarks." The complainant claimed that because she was a well-known journalist, the accused's actions caused her great embarrassment and insult.
The Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) blamed the complacency of the Delhi Police on this issue. DCW took Suo moto cognizance of this issue and chairperson Swati Maliwal also questioned the Delhi Police that why was no arrest made in the earlier Sulli Deals case even though an FIR has been filed since July.
WHO ARE THE PERPETRATORS?
On 4th January 2022, the police arrested the first accused in the Bulli Bai case, an 18-year-old girl named Shweta Singh from Uttarakhand. Apparently, she was the one operating the twitter handles and posting the tweets and pictures. After her, a 21-year-old boy Vishal Jha was also arrested from Bangalore after 10 hours of interrogation. The third accused in this case, Mayank Rawal, a 21-year-old son of a serving army personnel posted in Jammu was also arrested by a 3-member team of the Mumbai Cyber Police. He was nabbed from Paurhi Garhwal in Uttarakhand on 5th January 2022
The main account holder of the Bulli Bai app and the alleged mastermind Neeraj Bishnoi was found and arrested by the IFSO unit of the Delhi Police Special Forces on 7th January 2022. He created the app on GitHub and was also operating the main twitter account for the app.
Another person was arrested from Odisha in connection to this case, a total of 5 arrests have been made so far and all the accused have been taken to Mumbai.
All the accused have been remanded to police custody by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and the Bandra Court in Mumbai has also denied their bail plea.
The main accused as alleged by the Mumbai Police, Neeraj Bishnoi, who created the app on GitHub and handled the twitter account also, has given a rather clear statement to the police. In the initial interrogation carried out by the police, it has been found that Neeraj was in disarray with all of the muslim community and wanted to target muslim women who are publicly vocal about their rights and the ongoing issues in the country. As the controversy over the Bulli Bai app began to grow after the new year weekend, Neeraj was closely monitoring the situation and as soon as he found out that the state is ordering a probe into the matter, he created fake twitter accounts with an IP address based in Nepal and with a Sikh name in Gurmukhi script to befool the authorities with a fake identity. He created several fake accounts and even tried to mislead the investigation by tweeting “You have arrested the wrong guy @MumbaiPolice”.
Neeraj’s parents have also come forward and spoke to The Press Trust of India- Neeraj has always been an introvert. He hasn’t had many friends in school or college and has always been glued to his laptop. He practically spent all of his lockdown in 2020 locked up in his room and glued to his laptop.
Neeraj has been expelled from his college Vellore Institute of Technology, Bangalore as the college authorities claim that he has brought disrepute to the institution.
After he was arrested and taken into police custody, he has tried to harm himself twice and attempted suicide as well.
The police have charged the accused with relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860
• Section 153A- Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.
• Section 153B- Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration
• Section 354A- Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment
• Section 509- Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman
It is important to note that Neeraj specifically used several fake accounts on twitter and even impersonated to be a Sikh by using a different name and an IP address based in Nepal to lead the police into believing that he isn’t an Indian. Hence, as this is an issue related to cybercrimes, some relevant sections of Information Technology Act, 2000 also must come into play in this case:
• Section 66D- Punishment for cheating by personation by using computer resource
• Section 67- Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form
This Bulli Bai case along with the earlier Sulli Deals case is being seen from a communal angle by most people i.e., it was clearly aimed at inciting religious discontent amongst people and could even spark communal atrocities.
But the fact that should worry us more is that all the accused in this case are in the prime of their youth and instead of making use of their youth for the development of the nation and for constructive purposes, they’re caught up in this web of crime. Moreover, this particular crime is directed towards targeting women and humiliating them by using derogatory terms and making shameful statements about them which, in a country which is anyway plagued with the issue of women safety is yet another dent in the so-called efforts made to ensure women safety.
It is high time that we understand that women safety cannot be ensured alone by stricter and more airtight laws. Given the inefficiency of the system, it is just not practical to think this way. What really can make a difference is imparting moral education. Quality moral education, right from elementary school up until higher studies is important at this point, because it is clearly the loss of good morals which make even the educated youth, coming from good educated family backgrounds, defame and shame women like this just to fulfil their own communal agenda. The generally accepted stereotype that only men commit crime against women is also broken by this case where the prime accused is a woman.
At this point now, it is safe to say that it is not the gender, the person, the religion, the profession or even the hands which do the crime, it is always the mind. And until we fix the mind, until we impart good morals, starting right from the walls of our home right up to the gates of our universities, no laws, no rules can make any difference.
This article is written by Mohd Saqib Husain of LLOYD LAW COLLEGE.