• Adithi Reddy

Bulli Bai App Controversy

The controversial Bulli Bai app displayed doctored faces of influential Muslim women with a derogatory tagline that read "Sulli deal of the day". It is to be noted that 'Sulli' is a derogatory term used against women. The app creators would use the photos illegally obtained from the women's social media handles and convince people to take part in the "auction".

What did the Bulli Bai app do?

Photographs of more than 100 Muslim women, including prominent actress Shabana Azmi, wife of a sitting judge of Delhi High Court, multiple journalists, activists and politicians were displayed on the app for auction as “Bulli Bai” of the day. Even Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai was not spared by the perpetrators behind the app.

Both ‘Bulli’ and ‘Sulli’ are derogatory words used for Muslim women in local slang.However, this time the Punjabi language was used in the ‘Bulli Bai’ interface along with English

While there was no real sale involved, the online application created on Microsoft-owned open software development site GitHub was, intended “to degrade and humiliate vocal Muslim women”.The app was taken down on Saturday, with victims saying the interface of the GitHub extension on “Bulli Bai” was strikingly similar to the one used by “Sulli Deals”.

By Saturday evening, dozens of other Muslim women began posting their shock and outrage on social media after seeing their photographs and details on the app.

Action against Bulli Bai and its creators

The app, now taken down, displayed more than 100 women ‘for sale as maids’, with victims saying they have little hope of action by police.

A complaint was filed by a journalist with the Delhi Police against “unknown people” for harassing and insulting Muslim women on social media “using doctored pictures in unacceptable and lewd context”.Based on her complaint, a first information report (FIR) was registered by Delhi Police’s Cyber Crime Unit on Sunday, invoking various sections of the Indian Penal Code that pertain to promoting enmity on grounds of religion, threatening national integration and sexual harassment of women.

Several Indian parliamentarians have raised the matter with the government, including Priyanka Chaturvedi, based in the western state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai.

After her tweet calling out India’s IT minister to take “stern action” against “misogynistic and communal targeting of women”, the minister said GitHub had blocked the user responsible for hosting the site and the “police authorities are coordinating further action”.

The case against the Bulli Bai app

Mumbai Police had also filed a first information report (FIR) against unknown persons based on complaints that doctored photographs of women were uploaded for auction on 'Bulli Bai' application hosted by GitHub platform. On Sunday, West Mumbai Cyber Police station registered a case against the 'Bulli Bai' app developers and Twitter handles that promoted the app.

The case has been registered against the unknown culprits under sections 153(A) (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion etc), 153(B) (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 295(A) (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings), 354D (stalking), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman), 500 (criminal defamation) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 67 (publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form) of Information Technology Act.

After both the Delhi and Mumbai police lodged FIR in the matter under relevant sections, Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw, in a tweet on Sunday said, "Government of India is working with police organizations in Delhi and Mumbai on this matter."

GitHub has blocked the user who had uploaded the app and that the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), the country's nodal agency on cyber security, and police are coordinating further action in the matter.

In a major breakthrough of the case, the Delhi police confirmed the arrest of Niraj Bishnoi, a 21 year old from Assam on 6th january. Police claim he is the mastermind behind the bulli bai app. The arrest was made by Delhi police’s special unit IFSO. Niraj was arrested by Assam police late on 5th January and handed over to Delhi police on 6th january. He is a resident of Assam's Jorhat, a second year B.Tech student of VIT bhopal. Following arrest Niraj has been suspended from VIT Bhopal.This is the fourth arrest in the case after Vishal Kumar Jha, a 21 year old resident of bengaluru, shweta singh an 18 year old resident of uttarakhand and Mayank Rawat, an uttarakhand resident on 5th January. Police have registered a case against unknown culprits under relevant sections of IPC and the IT Act.

Outrage over Bulli Bai app

This is particularly alarming for Muslim women who are fighting patriarchy and restrictions on one hand and facing such harassment on the other.Often women are asked to remove their pictures from social media and hide.This is hailing targeted harassment of women without being identified by law. After such attempts to harass Muslim women, it will be difficult for many women to take a stand.

Bulli Bai takes hate crimes in India to another dangerous level where Muslim women are being virtually violated and made a free-for-all for a bigoted mob.These auctions of women from the minority communities display the moral degradation of India and its constitutional values.

A 2018 Amnesty International report on online harassment in India showed that the more vocal a woman was, the more likely she was to be targeted - the scale of this increased for women from religious minorities and disadvantaged castes.

Critics say trolling against Muslim women has worsened in recent years in India's polarised political climate.

But when will women get respect?

Last month, a female union minister got heckled by elected ‘mob’ for implementing ‘child marriage act’

Last month, a male MLA remarks ‘fate is like rape, enjoy if you can’t resist’ in a full parliament, and everyone laughs!

Therefore, prompt reporting of cyber crime by citizens, technically proficient investigation by police adequately supported by forensics, and time-bound completion of court trials are essential for catching cyber offenders who are terrorising people, especially women, in the virtual as well as the real world.


~ Adithi Reddy