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Reaction To ‘Bulli Bai’: Is Women’s Safety An Issue Only When It Suits An Agenda?

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The controversial app Bulli Bai targeting Muslim women and horrifically putting them up for ‘auction’ on the internet has elicited strong responses nationwide. Social media, where conversation more often than not lacks the nuance that a sensitive subject such as that of women’s safety warrants, is currently replete with opinions and rebuttals and rationalisations around the harassment this group of minority women was faced with.

On one hand, there is a somber wave of relief mixed with fiery shock around the recent developments in the ‘Bulli Bai’ case. The Mumbai and Delhi police, since the harassment was first flagged on social media on January 1, have made four arrests as of Thursday. All suspects apprehended are in the youth age group of 18 to 21 years. One of them, an engineering student, is named as the creator of the GitHub app and the “mastermind” behind the entire operation. Read here.

This ‘auction’ harassment of India’s Muslim women has happened at least three more times in a span of one year, without any solid action to speak of by our police forces. Which explains the mellow tone despite the major action by the police, because, as survivors have told us, there is an understanding that the ‘Bulli Bai’ persecution could have been deterred, had women seen some arrests made the previous times.

On the other hand, the deliberate dismissal of India’s Muslim women is far from over, it seems. A subset of people on the internet has taken this very moment – that Muslim women are using to voice communally-fuelled patriarchal oppression reserved for them – to highlight safety concerns that women of other religions too face.


Suggested Reading: “Are We Safe In This Country?” India’s Muslim Women Ask Amid ‘Bulli Bai’ Harassment


On Twitter, proclamations such as these are ringing loudest. ‘But what about the harassment Hindu women face?’ is a common refrain right now on the microblogging platform. ‘Why is there silence on the cyberbullying of Hindu women?’ At a time when discussions on cyber-safety of women are relevantly flaring up, it may seem to many an opportune moment to slip in the prosecution of the women of other religious groups, as alleged.

In fact, a Telegram channel that surfaced in the midst of the ‘Bulli Bai’ controversy allegedly targeted Hindu women, as per reports. It was subsequently blocked, with Information Technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw (who also took cognisance of Muslim women’s harassment) saying authorities were collaborating for further action in the case.

But one doesn’t have to look too hard to spot the agenda of this seeming concern around women’s safety at large some social media users are attempting to project. The paternal scrutiny from several men online, which has cropped up with intense passion, coincides with ‘Bulli Bai.’

Many pushing these ideas seem to vividly be doing so in a bid to water down the concerns Muslim women, in particular, are putting forward against the context of religious radicalisation taking over mainstream narratives.


Suggested Reading: The Kids Are Back Home, Again, And Mothers Are Losing Their Mind


Here’s the thing. Women’s safety is not a toy to play with when the need arises and discarded when an agenda saturates itself. This is an issue that demands unbiased, sensitive and active attention that cannot and should not cease in importance. It is not a pawn to peddle selective sensitivity with, especially for political gains.

Can those claiming to stand in defence of Hindu women allegedly being attacked on social media call themselves true allies by showing solidarity or activism for the cause sporadically? And notably only when Muslim women are crying hoarse about the abuse exclusively only they are subjected to?

Can this kind of opportunistic spotlighting ever add value to either cause? 

This whataboutery is not too different from when men sanctimoniously argue #NotAllMen when women assert #MeToo. What does this do, except shadow an urgent reality for most women with a rebuttal relying solely on the preservation of an ego? Is it fair when men snatch the mics of women, who are articulating about rape and harassment, to complain about violence the male population faces? Can that kind of opportunistic spotlighting ever add value to either cause?

Likewise, with the wide subject of women’s safety, one cannot expect a resolution by talking over those taking the courage and pains to lay bare their experiences. Macrocosmically, women across the board need, deserve and are demanding safety. The lens zoomed in urges the matter to be looked at from an intersectional standpoint where women of a certain religion or caste not as privileged as their counterparts will require rights that respect their multitudinous identities.

Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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