Mumbai: The accused arrested as part of the probe into the Bulli Bai app, which targeted Muslim women, tried to mislead people by projecting themselves as members of the Sikh community, thereby creating a possibility of communal tension between the two communities, the Mumbai Police said.
The Mumbai Police’s cyber cell, which is probing the case, has so far arrested three people in the matter: Vishal Kumar Jha, a 21-year-old studying engineering at a Bengaluru college, 18-year-old Shweta Singh from Uttarakhand, and another 21-year-old student from Uttarakhand, Mayank Rawat.
Addressing a press conference in Mumbai, city police chief Hemant Nagrale said that more arrests are likely to follow, and that the police are also investigating whether the accused were acting independently or if there is a larger conspiracy.
“This case is sensitive and it will not be appropriate to divulge a lot of details of the investigation. It can hamper the ongoing investigation, and accused people who are not apprehended so far might try to destroy evidence as most of the investigation is online and on the internet,” Nagrale said.
A Mumbai Police statement issued after the press conference said, “To make it seem like the Twitter handles (for the app) were created by members of the Sikh religion, the accused used terms related to the Sikh religion and targeted Muslim women. There was a possibility of creating differences between two communities and disturbing communal harmony.
“By arresting the accused in a timely manner, a law and order issue has been avoided.”
On Saturday, morphed photographs of dozens of women were found to be listed without their consent on the Bulli Bai app, hosted by software development platform GitHub. Last year, a similar website, Sulli Deals, now defunct, had put up similar photographs of Muslim women, listing them “for sale”.
The Mumbai Police registered an FIR in the matter on 2 January.
The modus operandi
Nagrale said the modus operandi was such that photographs of prominent Muslim women were taken from social media and uploaded on the Bulli Bai app-based website. Users who clicked on the app were directed to the website, and Twitter accounts, including one called ‘Bulli Bai’, were created to amplify the content on the website.
The Twitter handles used to promote the content on the Bulli Bai app were @sage0x11, @hmmaachaniceoki, @jatkhalsa7, @jatkhalsa, @sikhkhalsa11 and @wanabesigmaf, according to a Mumbai Police statement.
An impression was created that all these handles belonged to members of the Sikh community, added the statement. Also, the information for the Bulli Bai Twitter handle claimed that it was created by a ‘Khalsa Sikh Force’ or ‘KSF’. Moreover, one ‘Khalsa Supremacist’ was shown to be a follower of the Bulli Bai app.
When investigating officers tried to obtain information about the ‘Khalsa Supremacist’ Twitter handle, they found Jha’s involvement, police said.
“After registering the case, during technical analysis, we found out who were the followers of the app and started tracking them. While doing this, we found that Kumar Vishal (Jha), a second-year engineering student in Bengaluru, was one of the followers of the website. There were only five followers. We started investigating all of them,” the Mumbai Police chief told reporters.
“From here, the thread of the investigation reached the other accused, and one by one, we started taking them into our custody,” he added.
Jha, who originally comes from Bihar, is a second-year civil engineering student at Bengaluru’s Dayanand Sagar College of Engineering, the Mumbai Police said.
“The accused had technical knowledge. As a result, he has been tweeting anonymously in a way that his search history cannot be traced,” the police statement said, adding that Jha has a YouTube account under the name ‘Tavasya Vats’. The YouTube channel has 85 subscribers and one video, uploaded a year ago, on the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
Jha had allegedly falsely shown his location on the ‘Khalsa Supremacist’ Twitter handle as ‘Canada’.
The Mumbai Police has seized one mobile phone, one laptop and two SIM cards from Jha, who has been sent to police custody until 10 January.
A member of the faculty at Jha’s college in Bengaluru told ThePrint that the police had apprehended him while he was in class, and that in college at least, the student didn’t come across as a troublemaker.
Shweta Singh, the second accused to be arrested, originally comes from Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh and has been living in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand, for about 15 years. A senior officer of the Uttarakhand Police said she had finished her Class 12 examination and was preparing for college entrance examinations. He also said Singh had lost both her parents.
The Mumbai Police has obtained a transit remand for Singh for four days, while it is in the process of securing one for Rawat.
While addressing reporters in Mumbai, Nagrale also indirectly rapped officers from the Uttarakhand and Karnataka Police for divulging details about the arrests to sections of the media.
“I will also request and say that we have apprehended these people from different places and some local authorities have given some version about it, which I feel was not required because they were not aware about the details of the case and generally we don’t speak about other states’ cases,” he said.
With inputs from Anusha Ravi Sood
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)