Indian police have arrested a 20-year-old student, Neeraj Bishnoi, described as the main conspirator behind the online application ''Bulli Bai”, which put hundreds of Indian Muslim women up for an online "auction".
The arrest comes days after Mumbai police took three others into custody in connection with the case. The three other culprits, Shweta Singh, Mayank Rawal, and Vishal Kumar Jha are believed to be influenced by Hindu right-wing ideology.
"Niraj Bishnoi is the person who made the Bulli Bai application on GitHub," KPS Malhotra, a senior police officer from Delhi Police, said in a statement.
"He also is the person who created the Twitter handle of @bullibai. He forwarded the app to some people for its propagation in social media.
"From his mobile phone and laptop, we have collected the evidence that shows that he was the mastermind and creator of the app."
Launched last year, th app had listed Muslim women for "auction" with photographs sourced without permission and doctored.
On New Year's Day, hundreds of Muslim women in India, including journalists, social workers, and other prominent personalities, found their images on Bulli Bai, along with other derogatory content about them.
Many of the women listed on the app were vocal on social media platforms, especially about the rights of Muslims in India.
Users who opened the app were shown images of women – mostly doctored photos – with the tag line: “Your Bulli Bai of the day”. The phrase Bulli Bai is a derogatory Hindi slang term used for Muslim women.
It was the second harassment attempt targeting Muslim women within six months, after another app called “Sulli Deals” surfaced in July, carrying profiles with photos of over 80 prominent Muslim women as “deals of the day.”
In both cases of Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai, there was no actual sale or auction, but they were aimed at harassing, humiliating and intimidating some Muslim women who are mostly known for being vocal against the right-wing Hindu nationalism and some policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Vilification of Muslims
“This is not the first time that this has happened. This has happened repeatedly with vocal Muslim women who highlight issues that people don't want to talk about,” said Ismat Ara, a journalist on whose complaint the Delhi police had filed an initial chargesheet.
Daniel Bastard, Asia-Pacific director of Reporters Without Borders, said the appearance of this kind of app, “offering to place women journalists at the disposal of its users as if they were objects, is absolutely chilling”.
“We urge the Indian authorities to do whatever is necessary to bring those responsible for such apps to justice.
"To do nothing would be to condone an extremely violent form of harassment, a form of intimidation that discriminates against an entire sector of the journalistic community and exposes those targeted to potential physical attacks,” Bastard said in a statement.
Rights activists and Muslim community leaders say the case is an apparent hate attack aimed at the minority Muslim community.
“This is nothing than an attempt to victimize and bully Muslims. It is nauseating,” former chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission, Zafarul-Islam Khan told RFI.
Muslims make up around 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion population.