‘This is Traumatic to Share But I Think This is Very Necessary’
Entrepreneur and activist on being ‘auctioned’ online
I am an Indian American Muslim and I am speaking today because I am a victim of a global hate crime that has targeted me because I am a Muslim, because I am a woman, and because I am a critic of India’s Hindu supremacist government.
I woke up one morning this month to find that I was being auctioned online. I was one of about a hundred women up for auction on an app called “Bulli Bai”. Of course this was a fake auction, set up with pictures stolen from our social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter. The app was hosted on a platform called GitHub, which is a US based tech company that is owned by Microsoft.
This is the second time in six months that such an app has been created, targeting just the Muslim women. The roughly 100 women targeted including myself are from different age groups and diverse career paths, but they have all one thing in common: We are all Muslim, and we are all known for a vocal stand against “Hindutva”, the far right extremist ideology driving much of the violence and hateful rhetoric against Christians, Muslims, Dalits and other minorities in India.
I found out I was a victim after a friend of mine texted me a screenshot of the app with my own picture and my Twitter handle underneath. The sheer humiliation of being put up on sale and being called as “Bulli Bai,” which is a vulgar slang phrase implying that woman is a prostitute is really hard to describe in words.
I wrote about my ordeal, asked for accountability, contacted all sorts of forums available to me and demanded legal action, sought legal help. In short I am trying to defeat the goal of the app creators, that is silencing me.
I am used to waking up to abuse on Twitter every single day. Every time I am critical of the prime minister, Narendra Modi’s discriminatory policies against people of my faith I receive a barrage of slurs.
This is traumatic to share but I think this is very necessary, that I share the slurs that have been used, not just against me but also other Muslim women. The slurs like jihadi, the slurs like mulli. They call me slut, they call me a pig, they call me a puncturewali, madarsa chhap, Islamist, terrorist, traitor, virus, and whatnot.
Since this abuse has come so consistently since 2014, I assumed that I had developed an immunity against these deeply gendered and horrifying slurs. But nothing prepared me for the unique effect that being listed on the “Bulli Bai” app would have on me.
I narrated my account to whoever would listen, and read stories of my fellow auctioned women. I wrote about my ordeal, asked for accountability, I contacted all forums available to me. I demanded legal action, I sought legal help. In short I tried to defeat the goal as I said, of the app’s creators, that is silencing me.
I assumed being abused online for a Muslim woman is normal, I assumed this is how it should be going, and this is how it’s going to be. I tried to teach myself to shrug it off, shrug off the humiliation that I felt each time the Hindutva trolls come after me like a pack of wolves. But as I educated myself about the ten stages of genocide, I realised that my community is facing a genocidal threat.
Being objectified, being reduced to a virus, normalising the abuse, is one of the decisive stages of genocide. Trolling Muslim women is different and much more dangerous than all other forms of violence against women. It is a state-sponsored, state-powered, a huge, well oiled machinery committed to creating an atmosphere of hate particularly towards Muslims. As also other minority communities in India that have been running since 2014 when the BJP first came into power.
The Home Minister famously said that whatever BJP supporters will say will go viral, whether true or false. These online abusers are not fringe elements, like Anas Tanwir was mentioning. Many of them are backed by none other than the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, who follows many abusers. Twitter users who have used sexual slurs have been invited by him via social media, there have been many, many meet and greets.
The troll army has accomplished many things via social media. They have made big corporates withdraw their ads, cut short ad campaigns that encourage communal harmony and interfaith activities. One of the top Bollywood stars lost his contract with the Indian tourism ministry as well as brand endorsements because he said his family doesn’t feel safe in India any more for being a Muslim.
A volunteer of the BJP revealed that she was instructed to criticise journalists, actors and political figures online as part of her job. The BJP’s campaigns spill over into religious and sexual trolling of its targets, especially if it’s the women. The BJP’s troll army has even used deep fake porn to humiliate women critical of them.
As an Indian American Muslim, I have considered myself to be relatively, relatively safe compared to the activists on ground in India, to whom I look up to for courage and inspiration. But alas, living in the United States is no insurance against Hindutva misogyny.
The shudder and the horror of my fellow Muslim sisters in India who have to navigate not just Twitter but the actual streets in India and face their family every single day, and their coworkers…
I urge the United States government to take note of the systematic violence that Indian Muslim women are subjected to. I implore them to hold the Indian government accountable. Tech giants like Facebook, Twitter and others should not be able to shrug off the part that they play in enabling the persecution and genocide of my people.
Because, as Martin Luther King Jr said: In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Amina Kausar is an IT entrepreneur and activist. Transcribed from her January 12 testimony to the US Congress and Department of State