Wednesday, July 7 2021

Dive In

From the beginning, she was very much fascinated towards the sky, looking at the sky, space, how to enter space and what is there. I am very happy and overwhelmed with joy. My second granddaughter, she is going to space.

That’s the grandfather of Sirisha Bandla who is poised to become the second India-born woman in space—after Kalpana Chawla, who died in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003. NASA astronaut Sunita Williams is an Indian-origin American. Bandla will be a member of the Virgin Galactic Crew along with founder Richard Branson on July 11. Watch the Reuters report and interview here.

Big Story

A great hatred of Muslim women

The TLDR: An app “selling” Muslim women as “deals of the day” is the latest instance of a rising tide of assaults—both offline and online—aimed at them. We look at how and why Muslim women have become the most common targets of Islamophobia.


First, tell me about this app…

The app called ‘Sulli Deals’ was created on the hosting platform called GitHub. ‘Sulli’ is an ugly pejorative used to describe Muslim women. Here’s how the app works: 


  • The creators scraped photos of hundreds of Muslim women from social media platforms—including journalists, activists, analysts, artists and researchers. 
  • Most were Indian, but other nationalities including Pakistanis were targeted too. 
  • Basically, you open the app, click ‘Find me a sulli’ and it brings up the photo of one of the women. That’s it. The straightforward aim is to sexualise and demean these Muslim women.
  • Describing itself as a “community driven open source project,” the app appears to have been around for at least 20 days. The creators remain unknown—but GitHub has taken down the app, saying, “GitHub has longstanding policies against content and conduct involving harassment, discrimination, and inciting violence.”
  • But no other action has been taken against the perpetrators—although some of the victims are planning to file an FIR. 
  • One of the women, Saniya Ahmed, tweeted, “It is a clear case of trafficking, which is legally and morally wrong… These people are potential rapists. The inaction over this has the potential to lead to rapes.”


Trigger warning: This section includes language that is sexually violent.


Wait, hasn’t this happened before?

Yup, there have been at least two recent instances on other online platforms. 


One: Just before Eid in May, a number of Twitter handles with names like DesiSulliDeals and Sullideals101 shared photos of well-known Muslim women such as Congress leader Hasiba Amin or journalist Sania Ahmad—and “sell” them in an online auction. At the time Amin said, “These people are placing bids to own me and this handle claims that I have been sold to someone. He says ‘enjoy brother’.” And Twitter finally suspended the accounts, but has done little else to crack down on this kind of behaviour—even though it is a clear violation of its content policies. There has been no legal action either even though such hate-mongering violates sections of the Information Technology Act and other laws for crimes against women and spreading communal hatred.


Two: Right after Eid, a Hindutva YouTube channel named Liberal Doge posted photos of women dressed for the occasion. The channel’s 87,000 followers were then asked to “rate” and “auction” the women to each other. After great social media outrage, the channel was taken down, as was its Twitter handle—both of which are owned by a 23-year-old Gurgaon resident named Ritesh Jha. When a person (who happens to be a Hindu male) filed a complaint against Jha on Facebook, he reached out to the complainant on DM:


“After sometime, he told me that if I know any Muslim girls, he’ll arrange a room for me at my workplace. He said, ‘You can get the Muslim girls, we can rape them together and will make MMS.’ He said I should promote Hindu dharma.”


So describing these people as “potential rapists” may be exactly right.


Big point to note: These ‘Sulli deals’ kind of incidents are mild compared to the many fake social media accounts that pretend to be submissive Muslim women or virile Hindu men—and are very much active, as an Article 14 investigation notes:


“Innumerable accounts like these, post graphic pornographic content where Muslim women, or ‘sex-slaves of kattar Hindu men’, are shown asking for sex with Hindu men. These men often describe themselves as ‘owners of Muslim women’ and their profiles are peppered with words like ‘uncut’ (uncircumcised) and ‘bull’. Muslim men are termed as ‘katuwas’ (a slur for circumcised men) who are supposed to be sexually inferior and ‘cannot satisfy women.’”


Also this: 


“These accounts share hundreds of pornographic videos of women in hijab every day, with inflammatory captions such as ‘Hindu tigers, f*ck us.’ There are a range of messages on these social media accounts, presenting Muslim women as objects meant to be violently raped… Photoshopped pictures of Hindu men and pregnant women in saffron hijab are also widely shared by these accounts. The content is replete with references to Hindu rashtra where kattar Hindu men will take over Muslim women and teach them a ‘lesson’.”


Not just internet trolls: The hateful rhetoric may be more straightforward on these kinds of handles, but similar sentiments have been freely shared by politicians:


  • In 2014, then BJP MP Yogi Adityanath said: “We have decided that if they capture one Hindu girl, then we will bring back at least 100 Muslim girls… Our response will be a hundred times worse than their act.”
  • In 2015, Karnataka BJP MP Tejasvi Surya tweeted: “95% Arab women have never had an orgasm in the last few hundred years! Every mother has produced kids as act of sex and not love.” 
  • In 2019, after Article 370 was revoked, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar “joked” at a Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao event: "Our Minister O.P. Dhankar used to say that he will have to bring daughters-in-law from Bihar. People nowadays have started saying the route to Kashmir is cleared and now we will bring girls from Kashmir.”


Data point to note: An Amnesty investigation of online abuse in India found that Muslim women politicians receive 94.1% more ethnic or religious slurs than women from other religions.


This is just sickening… but why?!


In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

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  • Italy makes it to the finals!


A list of curious facts

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  • Do you know why your belly button smells?

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