“I am very angry because I am worried about where my country is heading.”

Zarina Bhatty, 88 spoke to The Citizen after a joint memorandum from many women’s organizations to Ram Nath Kovind, president of India popped up on her computer this morning, asking for severe punishment for the culprits responsible for publicly inciting the sexual abuse of Muslim women.

With her hands shaking, Bhatty added her signature to the long list of citizens asking the country’s highest Constitutional authority to use all means at the disposal of his office to intervene immediately to ensure that those responsible for this vile and criminal behaviour are punished with the severity they deserve.

It may be recalled that the new year witnessed the appearance of an app called Bulli Bai on social media, echoing the Sulli Deals advertisements that had gone largely unaddressed. Several prominent Muslim women like Ismat Ara, a journalist who immediately filed a police complaint in Delhi, and Sayma, a radio personality have been named and their photographs made public on the site with the purpose of auctioning these women online.

A photograph of the elderly Fatima Ammi, mother of Najeeb, student activist who went missing in murky circumstances in 2016 is also uploaded to the Bulli Bai app, evoking an outpouring of opposition from citizens to this vile behaviour.

Bhatty is former president of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies and of the Young Women’s Christian Association, New Delhi. She has researched, published and lectured extensively in India and abroad on Indian Muslim Women’s issues and on women working in the informalised sector.

In the twilight years of her life, Bhatty is concerned that all the work done by academics to introduce social justice and equality amongst all Indian citizens is being undone.

Bhatty sees herself as a humanist. She studied sociology and political science at the London School of Economics and taught at Delhi University. She worked as gender specialist with the United States Agency for International Development, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Islamic Development Bank.

Today she is pained that everything activists like her had achieved in the last few decades for the better of India is now being undone.

Bhatty recalls how she had led a delegation of concerned women to see Rajiv Gandhi, after the former prime minister set a dangerous precedent by giving in to Muslim hardliners against Shah Bano, a 62 year old Muslim abandoned by her husband without providing maintenance.

Shah Bano was overnight divorced by her husband who had uttered talaq three times, quoting Islamic law. Bhatty recalls telling Rajiv Gandhi that the legislation passed by his government in 1986 against Shah Bano’s successful petition in court was not in the interest of Muslim women.

Bhatty continues to believe that Muslim personal law is not the word of god and that it has no place in any society in this day and age. She would like to see a uniform law code come into practice in India during her lifetime.

When Bhatty went to work at the grassroots with the country’s most needy citizens, she did not look to improve the lot only of Muslim women. Her pioneering study on women in the bidi industry, undertaken and published by the International Labour Organization, received considerable recognition as it analysed the plight of all poor women in the village.

The life’s work of activists and first generation feminists like Bhatty has concentrated on ensuring that the democratic rights of all citizens and not just the minorities is upheld. Their work concentrates on the poorest of poor women in villages.

“We worked in the hope of making this country greater for all citizens, irrespective of what religion they belonged to. We spent our entire life struggling to uplift society as a whole and to restore rights of all Indians provided to them by the Constitution,” says Bhatty.

She hopes that more and more citizens will raise their voice loud and clear against the ignorant, cruel forces trying to shame, hurt and undermine Indian women, and returning modern society to the stone age.

Signed by Sujata Madhok, secretary of the Delhi Union of Journalists, the statement condemns the targeting of Muslim women on social media. In a press release the DUJ expresses shock and anger at the targeting also of several journalists, through the social media.

“We salute the bold women who filed FIRs against the publication of their photos, auctioning their bodies to bidders on the ‘Bulli Bai’ app. We urge the police in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad, where women have lodged complaints, to act urgently on the matter. Mumbai Police has detained a suspect from Bangalore but others need to be identified immediately.

“This is the second time that such a public ‘auction’ of Muslim women has taken place. Had the police identified the culprits behind the infamous ‘Sulli Deals’ that was online six months ago, this targeting and terrorizing of Muslim women would not have been repeated.

“We note that AltNews had investigated the online threat months ago, going to great lengths to trace and identify some of the fake handles responsible for the outrageous app. Predictably, no action was taken by the police.

“We congratulate the Wire journalist Ismat Ara for her courage in filing a case with the Delhi Police. We express our solidarity with all members of the Delhi Union of Journalists who are facing these attacks.

“We share the anguish of all the women who experienced sexual harassment and that of their families. A young woman lawyer has penned a piece for the Quint whose title speaks, ‘My Mom’s Photo was Misused on Bulli Bai, No Daughter should be Writing This’. She writes, ‘…what Bulli Bai means to me is the willful, well-planned perpetuation of minority oppression, systemic sexism and gender-based violence against a certain community of women.’

“An online petition urges the Supreme Court to take suo moto cognizance and monitor the investigation and prosecution of this matter. The Delhi Union of Journalists supports this move.

“Nearly 100 women have been attacked. Most of them are professionals, including journalists (some are members of the DUJ), historians, politicians and pilots. We urge more of them to come forward to report and voice their ordeal, so that such hideous experiences are not repeated. The police and the courts must act now”.

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