Police in India said they are planning to prosecute a man who allegedly created an app that listed photos and personal information of more than 80 Muslim women for online "auction."
Delhi Police made the announcement Sunday after Delhi's Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena granted permission to go ahead with the trial of Aumkareshwar Thakur, 25, in court.
With a supporting Twitter handle, Thakur created the open-source app "Sulli Deals" — which was hosted on web platform GitHub in July 2021 — posting profiles of Muslim women for "sale" or "auction."
"Sulli" is vulgar derogatory Hindi slang that right-wing Hindu groups sometimes use to troll Muslim women.
Advertised women as 'deals of the day'
A spoof of real online auction sites, Thakur's app didn't allow for actual transactions of any kind, but instead aimed solely to degrade and humiliate Muslim women. According to court documents, Thakur collected publicly available photos of the women — including journalists, activists, researchers, artists and other critics of right-wing Hindu activities under Narendra Modi's government — and then created corresponding profiles to post as "deals of the day."
In January, Thakur, a computer engineer, was arrested in the central Indian city of Indore by Delhi Police and charged with crimes "committed against the state," which requires special permission from the government to go to trial.
After Sulli Deals surfaced online last year, "Bulli Bai" — a near-identical app with an equally offensive name hosted on GitHub with photos of more than 100 Muslim women — appeared online in January this year.
Both apps were taken down shortly after triggering a nationwide outcry. A preliminary police investigation found evidence that the development of both apps was influenced at least in part by right-wing Hindu ideology.
Thakur has not been formally linked with any specific right-wing Hindu organization, scores of which are incorporated nationwide, and no Hindu group has publicly supported the accused.
After Delhi Police arrested Thakur in January, the United Nations special rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, sought the prosecution of those behind the app.
"Minority Muslim women in India are harassed and 'sold' in social media apps, #SulliDeals, a form of hate speech, must be condemned and prosecuted as soon as they occur," Varennes tweeted in January. "All Human Rights of minorities need to be fully and equally protected."
'They targeted me just because I am Muslim.'
Hana Khan, a Delhi-based commercial pilot, was shocked to find herself on Sulli Deals last year.
"I cannot describe in words how shocked and angry I was to find myself featured on Sulli Deals. I think I had never been so angry in my life. I could never believe that somebody could do something like sharing me on an online application as a 'Sulli of the Day' or as a 'flavor of the month,'" Khan, 32, told VOA.
"I lived with that anger and trauma for many months," she added. "I never said or wrote anything criticizing Hindu nationalists. Yet they targeted me just because I am Muslim."
Victims threatened with rape, death
Scars left by the "vulgar Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai attacks" run deep in the minds of their victims, said Kolkata-based lawyer and activist Noor Mahvish, whose photo was featured on Sulli Deals.
"In India's communally polarized climate, online trolling of Muslim women has increased," she told VOA. "For being vocal on many issues on social media, several Muslim women even face death and rape threats. Most often the perpetrators of such hate attacks are Hindu right-wing groups as they were found to be behind Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai.
"Maybe people will forget the incidence of these apps and will stop talking about it, but one thing is for sure that those who had gone through the harrowing experience of being featured on Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai, a trauma will certainly haunt many of them for the rest of their lives."