Monday, January 10 2022

Dive In



Because right now there is someone

out there with

a wound in the exact shape

of your words.

That’s from a poem by Sean Thomas Dougherty titled ‘Why Bother?’—explaining with great precision and brilliance exactly why we should. Yes, this neverending pandemic is never-endingly hard. But let’s never forget those who need us to bother. 

Big Story

A flurry of hate crime arrests

The TLDR: Over the past week, the Mumbai and Delhi police have arrested five people in connection to two apps—Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals—that target Muslim women. The identities of those arrested offer an eye-opening view of the footsoldiers of the extreme Hindu right.


Researched by: Sara Varghese & Prafula Grace Busi


First, a quick recap

  • Back in July, the app called ‘Sulli Deals’ was uploaded on Github. 
  • It scraped photos of hundreds of Muslim women from social media platforms—and offered them as the deal of the day. 
  • The app was taken down, police complaints were filed—but no perpetrator was identified or punished. 
  • In January, a near-identical app called ‘Bulli Bai’ popped up—again on Github.
  • This time, the Mumbai police sprang into action and arrested three people—including one person they named a “mastermind.”
  • The very next day, the Delhi police arrested one person in Guwahati—claiming he was the actual creator of the Bulli Bai app.
  • And over the weekend, they arrested a man from Indore who is allegedly the creator of the Sulli Deals app. 


PS: If you need more background, check out our most recent explainer on the apps.


Meet the accused: a lineup of techies

The accused are mostly young college students—educated and from middle class backgrounds.


Vishal Kumar Jha: The 21-year old civil engineering student in Bangalore was the first to be arrested by the Mumbai police. He is accused of using various social media accounts to post hateful content from the Bulli Bai app. Jha claims he was merely following instructions. The family says their son was a bright kid in Patna with a “warm social outlook”—but changed when he started college in Bangalore. According to the college, he was an introvert but “not a troublemaker.” There is no indication that his family or his father—who is a class II railway officer—held strong political views.


Shweta Singh: The 18-year old’s arrest—for sharing Bulli Bai content from her Twitter handle—shocked many because of her gender. The Uttarakhand police seemed to excuse her behaviour—pointing to the fact she has lost both her parents and may have been under pressure to earn money. Unlike the others, she was planning to pursue a degree in archaeology. She too is described as a loner by her family—who call themselves “lower middle class,” but deny that they were short of money. The police describe Singh as a “Hindu fanatic”—who found like-minded friends online, specifically Vishal Jha. 


Mayank Rawat: was also arrested in Uttarakhand. The 21-year old is a BSc Chemistry student at Delhi University. His father is a subedar in the army and is currently posted in Jammu. The local police claim he hasn’t done much other than follow instructions:


“A WhatsApp chat contact of the arrested youth shared with him around six to seven links of the said app. He was asked by the contact to share the links to his Twitter timeline and he followed. He doesn’t seem to have any zealot bent.”


Niraj Bishnoi: was arrested by the Delhi police in Assam—and they claim he is the “the creator and main conspirator” in the Bulli Bai case. And they have his confession to prove it. The 20-year old—described as a “tech expert”—is pursuing a BTech in computer science in Bhopal. When the Mumbai police arrested the first three, he trolled them on Twitter using a fake handle: “You have arrested the wrong person, slumbai police. I am the creator of #BulliBaiApp.” And that’s what led the Delhi police to him. So not such a tech expert then. FYI: he too is described as highly reclusive—happiest online than in the real world.


Point to note: The evidence—found on his laptop—against Bishnoi appears to be most damning. It also included a lot of porn of a certain kind:


“He is a porn addict and he has also revealed it during interrogation about it. The data suggests that he has certain abnormal desires for women elder to him, from a certain age group, belonging to a certain community (Muslims).”


Aumkareshwar Thakur: Over the weekend, the Delhi police made the first and only arrest in the Sulli Deals case—after receiving information from Bishnoi. The 26-year old is the oldest of the lot—and has a Bachelors of Computer Applications. He currently works as a freelance web designer from home. Thakur is part of a Twitter group that came up with the idea for the app. He allegedly developed the code, while the other members contributed images. His family claims Thakur is being framed.


Big point to note: Thakur has extensive links to various Twitter groups that describe themselves as ‘Trads’—and offers the first clue of a vast underbelly of an informal alt-Right Hindu network:


“We have seen he was a member of many ‘trad’ groups on Telegram and Twitter, but the members are deleting these groups now. We have seen 7-8 boys who were part of the Tradmahasabha group. They all left the group and deleted their profiles. This was the main group. There was no hierarchy. All members are equally guilty of making the app. Thakur was the one who wrote the code. There were several discussions about Muslim women and their community.”

Meet the ‘Trads’ & the ‘Raitas’


Headlines that matter

The Djokovic saga continues

Defending champion Novak Djokovic was given a medical exemption so he could play the Australian Open. No one knew why. Then when he landed in Australia, his visa was revoked. But no one knew why. He has now been detained in a hotel—and challenged his deportation in an Australian court. So we finally have some answers thanks to legal documents: 


  • An unvaccinated Djoko got an exemption from the tournament organisers on December 30 because he tested positive for Covid on December 16.
  • But before that—on December 7—organisers also told participants that a confirmed infection in the last six months would be valid grounds for a “medical exemption.”
  • That’s a bit odd since the Australian government clearly informed the Open’s director in November that a previous Covid infection does not qualify anyone for an exemption.

To put a cherry on this entire mess, we now have photos of an unmasked Covid-positive Djoko participating in a panel—and posing with fans—after he tested positive. And the whole thing has turned into an international incident. Fans are staging protest rallies outside his hotel room, and the Serbian ministry insists he was “lured to Australia … to be humiliated.” And the Oz government is threatening to re-cancel his visa and detain him again—even if Djoko wins in court. (CNN)

Ashneer Grover’s big meltdown 

The BharatPe founder raged at an employee of Kotak bank—calling Sushruta Arora a ‘bhen****’, threatening to have him killed in an ‘encounter’. The audio went viral, Grover claimed it was fake—but then deleted his claim from his social media handles. Now, the audio has disappeared as well. 


  • The incident has since been confirmed by Mint—which says the trigger for the rage was a loan Kotak was supposed to advance Grover to buy Nykaa shares—which is common with high net worth individuals. But that loan was never approved.
  • MoneyControl also revealed that Grover previously sent a legal notice to Kotak– asking for compensation for “damages for the gains Grover and his wife would have made after subscribing to shares worth Rs 500 crore in the company besides Rs 1 lakh towards the cost of the legal notice.” 
  • Kotak then sent a response that has now been shared widely saying, “This notice was received by us and was replied to appropriately at the time, including placing on record our objections to inappropriate language used by Mr Grover. Appropriate legal action is being pursued.”


So let’s review. A very rich person thinks a bank should lend him money so he can become an even richer person—and owes him damages if it doesn’t? And its employees should be threatened with ‘encounter killings’ if they didn’t make it happen? Wow, this guy makes Nirav Modi look good.

A big competitive exam scam

We missed this one last week, but it’s an astonishing story. The Delhi police have busted a gang that helped candidates cheat on a variety of competitive exams—ranging from the US MBA entrance test GMAT to the engineering college JEE test. And they did it with help from Russian hackers. The Print has the exclusive.

Meet a plant named Leo

The first newly identified plant has been named after none other than Leonardo DiCaprio. The critically endangered species—now called Uvariopsis dicaprio—is an evergreen tree native to Cameroon, has glossy, yellow-green leaves, and rises up to 13 ft. So why Leo? His activism helped save the forest of Ebo where this plant grows. Here is a vid with more on the forest. (Smithsonian Magazine)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • The latest ‘Scream’ sequel is on its way


Smart & Curious

  • The people-dog-wildlife conflict on the IIT-Madras campus
  • The veteran city dwellers of Mumbai: Leopards
  • 'Collector culture: where men trade explicit photos and clips of women
  • Gen Z at the workplace

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