New Delhi: A now-defunct website called ‘Sulli Deals’ put ‘on sale’ 90 Muslim women, mostly Indians, seemingly in a bid to target and harass them. ‘Sulli’ is a derogatory slang for Muslim women.
The website — self-described as a “community driven open source project” — profiled Muslim women journalists, activists, analysts, artists and researchers and put them up “for auction”. While a majority of the women were Indian, women of other nationalities, including Pakistan, were also named.
The information revealed included photographs and Twitter handles.
For example : pic.twitter.com/qaUmsTp5dT
— K (@madeforbrettLEE) July 4, 2021
The development was noticed late Sunday when a Twitter user named ‘K’ found the link of the website floating on the internet and tweeted about it. She is among those who were named on the website.
The owners of the website were not immediately known. However, software development platform GitHub, which hosted the website, took it down Monday.
“GitHub has longstanding policies against content and conduct involving harassment, discrimination, and inciting violence. We suspended user accounts following the investigation of reports of such activity, all of which violate our policies,” a company spokesperson told ThePrint.
ThePrint’s Senior Correspondent Fatima Khan was also among those targeted and listed on the website. ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta condemned the harassment and said the incident had been reported to the in-house POSH committee for further action.
“When things like these happen, a thousand scary thoughts race through your mind: What else do they have on me, how else do they plan on harassing me?” Fatima said and also tweeted about it.
“It is extremely scary to be in this position, and frankly it is the responsibility of the liberal society at large to speak up and condemn these incidents. Not stay mum.”
The date of upload of pictures suggests that the website had been active for at least the past 20 days.
Speaking to ThePrint, the victims said they are considering filing an FIR with the cyber crime branch of Delhi Police, but aren’t hopeful of action.
“This isn’t the first time Muslim women have been targeted in such a manner. I don’t think the police, the NCW (National Commission of Women), or anyone else for that matter really cares about this,” Twitter user ‘K’ told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
Many Twitter users called for immediate and strict action by the NCW. The panel chairperson Rekha Sharma told ThePrint, “My team is going through it… the website links are no more available, so let them (the victims) tell me the details.”
The NCW is considering the facts currently and will take suo motu cognisance, if required, Sharma said.
This isn’t the first time that Muslim women have been targeted in this fashion.
On 13 May, a YouTube LIVE by a channel called ‘Liberal Doge’ had shared pictures of Pakistani women in an abusive and sexualised video. The channel had shared the video on Eid and called it ‘Eid Special’. The video was later removed. Muslim women were “auctioned” on Twitter shortly after this incident.
“Back then we reported about it and moved on. But the same people must’ve regrouped on this website and have been ‘dealing’ in Muslim women online for the past 20 days, completely unnoticed. It makes me sick to my stomach,” said the user ‘K’.
‘Cyberbullying is a norm’
Zainab Sikandar Siddiqui, an Indian political analyst whose picture was also used on ‘Sulli Deals’, said that an incident like this isn’t anything new for Muslim women online. Unfortunately, she said, cyberbullying is so common that it has become a “norm”.
“Sexualisation and targeting of women happens across the board, but it is definitely disproportionate for Muslim women. Especially more so in these politically polarised times in the country when ‘Hindu vs Muslims’ is a common theme,” she said.
“Women journalists and political analysts online who are particularly vocal are shamed and harassed online for speaking their mind. I’ve had my pictures morphed. My face was put on the body of a woman wearing a bikini, I’ve been called a ‘jihadi’ and received many rape threats,” she said.
“The number of people writing filth against you is so huge that you get tired of reporting it,” she added.
Another Twitter user Saniya Sayed, who is also among those named in the latest incident, said this auction was akin to “trafficking”, and called the perpetrators behind the website “potential rapists”.
“A group of men made a database of Muslim women and named it “Sulli Deals”. Images of Muslim women, including mine, were shared there. It is a clear case of trafficking, which is legally and morally wrong. But here, a particular section is openly supporting them…” she said.
A group of men made a database of Muslim women and named it “Sulli Deals”. Images of Muslim women, including mine, were shared there. It is a clear case of trafficking, which is legally and morally wrong. But here, a particular section is openly supporting them. (1/3)
— Saniya Sayed (@Ssaniya_) July 5, 2021
This report has been updated to include that ThePrint’s Senior Correspondent Fatima Khan was also among those listed and targeted.