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Indian Muslim women harassed in online 'auction'

July 10, 2021

Dozens of Muslim women in India were named in online "auctions" by anonymous trolls. Police are investigating but targets were all outspoken, educated women in the country.

Hana Mohsin Khan was a target of an online harassment campaign in India that offered her up for sale in an "auction"
Hana Mohsin Khan was the target of an online harassment campaign in India that offered her up for sale in an "auction"Image: girl.pilot/Instagram

Indian police are investigating an unsettling harassment campaign where more than 80 Muslim women were offered up for sale in online "auctions" without their knowledge or consent.

The images of the outspoken Indian Muslim women were posted to the open software development site GitHub where they were labeled "sulli deal of the day." 'Sulli' is a racist insult against Muslim women in India.

Those targeted in this harassment campaign say the matter highlights the growing problem of Islamophobia in the country.

Hana Mohsin Khan, an airline pilot with over 12,000 Twitter followers, told DW she was alerted by a friend last week who directed her to a gallery of images of women and found she was the fourth person there.

"Most of the women who have been targeted are vocal women, you know, people who are talking on the internet or on Twitter, and they're educated women," she said.  

Who was targeted and are there consequences for the perpetrators?

India's National Commission for Women notes this incident was focused on Muslim female researchers, analysts, artists and journalists.

GitHub has reacted by suspending the users' accounts, noting numerous terms of service violations concerning harassment, discrimination and incitement to violence.

Delhi police do not know who is responsible, so they have filed charges against unknown persons.

India’s #MeToo moment?

Larger political context behind the fake auctions

Sania Ahmad, 34, a target of the harassment campaign, blamed an online troll army of Hindu ultra-nationalists which she said has proliferated in recent years. These trolls engage in brigading, where numerous users harass the same target at once.

Ahmad told AFP her heartbeat accelerates every morning when she opens her phone, "It starts with petty abuse and grows into death and rape threats." She believes these harassment campaigns have "political backing."

The rise of Narendra Modi and the Hindu nationalist BJP party in 2014 has left many Muslims feeling treated as second class citizens in their own country. 

Many of India's 170 million Muslims have felt terrorized after several lynchings of Muslim men for alleged violations of the sacred rites of cows. Other hate crimes as well have fed a climate of anxiety and concern in the community.

Fatima Khan, a journalist included in the list told AFP, "Muslim men are lynched, Muslim women are harassed and sold online. When will this end?"

"The women targeted here don't fit into their idea of a typical Muslim victim — docile, burkha-clad and abused. When we don't fit into that, they want to silence us," Khan said.

ar, fa/csb (AFP, DW)