It’s a sad and shameful start to the New Year for India, a nation that was looked upto as a beacon of inclusivity, diversity and religious tolerance. Cliched as it sounds, those who have taken pride in taglines that said there’s always a Ram in Ramzan and that there’s an Ali in Deepavali are compelled to bow their heads in shame. For today, India is slowly, but surely turning into a poster child for hate speech and divisive rhetoric with every passing hour.
This week, a 21-year-old B Tech student, who was the young mastermind behind the Bulli Bai app, was apprehended by the Delhi police. The app, which had gained notoriety over the past few weeks, featured as many as 100 of India’s prominent Muslim women hailing from a diverse spectrum of disciplines, whose images were doctored in an obscene manner and placed for auction on the app.
The incident is a throwback to July 2021 when another app called Sulli Deals had indulged in a similar tactic of defaming well-known women hailing from the minority community, including journalists, writers and activists. The mischief was aimed at humiliating and demoralising Muslim women who stood up to injustice and called out corruption. Despite FIRs being filed in UP and Delhi, no action was initiated against the perpetrators. This latest violation is the second such incident of online assault on the modesty of women in less than a span of a year.
What has caught the attention of the experts is the modus operandi employed by the antisocial elements when it came to the dissemination of such narratives. For instance, propaganda that was once unleashed on social media via microblogging and instant messaging apps have now moved on to reputed sites like GitHub, which is known to be a popular platform for downloading open-source utility software and applications of various kinds. And although the IT Minister has announced that the user behind the app has been blocked, women’s rights activists had referred to it as an inadequate response. Subsequently, over the course of this week, the Mumbai police arrested three people in connection with this case – a 19-year-old woman from Uttarakhand, a 21-year-old engineering student from Bengaluru and another 21-year-old from Uttarakhand.
The arrest of these youngsters is a reminder that it’s no more the old-timers or disgruntled right wingers who are resorting to such outbursts. College goers and young professionals are now getting caught while exhibiting such blatant displays of bigotry and misogyny. One might recall how in October 2020, a teenager from Gujarat was apprehended by the police for having issued threats of sexual assault to the five year old daughter of a prominent cricketer in the country. In the case of the Bulli Bai app, it seems probable that these teenagers had not acted in isolation or in the absence of external stimuli. What’s more troubling is the systematic manner in which the country’s youth is being indoctrinated into behaving in such unacceptable fashion, the burden of which falls squarely on their caregivers, guardians and peer groups.
There are several sections of the IPC that are aimed at tackling hateful rhetoric against other communities, as well as the harassment of women under the garb of religion. However, in the absence of an intent to steadfastly investigate and prosecute such offenders, the law might not be worth the piece of paper that it’s written on. And sadly, if the older generation, who is supposed to act as guiding lights for the next in line, fail in its duties, one can rest assured that India might be staring at very dark days indeed.