Sulli Deals Harassment: The Double Jeopardy Of Being A Muslim Woman Online

Women speak out in the Sulli Deals harassment case, set on their goal for due action against abusers and hate speech mongers on the internet.

Tanvi Akhauri
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"I have forgotten what it was like to be safe on the internet," social media user Sania Ahmad tells us. She is one of the many women targeted in the outrageous Sulli Deals harassment row that involved Muslim women being 'auctioned' off on an app platformed on an open-source website.

The app 'Sulli Deals' hosted on GitHub was taken down after massive outrage flooded the internet earlier this week when multiple minority women awoke to their names, photos, and other details displayed as 'deals of the day' online.

After tens of netizens raised the alarm - shocked and angered - the National Commission for Women (NCW) and Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) took cognisance of the issue, leading the Delhi Police to file an FIR against the offensive app and issue a notice to GitHub. See a timeline here.

This was not the first time, though, that such targeted bullying of a vulnerable group was initiated online with a seemingly chest-thumping lack of fear of repercussions. Earlier this year in May, several Muslim women (across both India and Pakistan) were made the target of 'auctions' and 'ratings' by an army of trolls led by Twitter account @keshu_10 and YouTube account Liberal Doge.

Ahmad was one of the prime preys.

"This is happening with greater frequency because this is the same group of people essentially," she tells us. "Also because no action was taken against them in May. In spite of all the information, evidence and FIR we had against the Liberal Doge account last time around, no action was taken. That emboldens them. They know they can carry on doing whatever they do with impunity and nothing will happen to them. That they are protected by someone who appears to have strong political backing."

Sulli Deals Harassment No More: Women Are Standing Up To Take Action


Being a woman on the internet means inboxes inundated with dirty messages, simple selfie photos made vulgar with slobbering comments, opinions responded to with abuses. That horror is exponentially manifold when intersectional identities come into play. An ORF report has observed how oppression emerges in the cross-network of gendered abuse and rising Islamophobia online.

"It’s utterly ridiculous and shameful that I’m being targeted because I’m a Muslim woman," Hana Mohsin Khan, a commercial pilot and among those 'auctioned' on the Sulli Deals app, tells SheThePeople. Khan was oblivious to her identity flashing on the app until a friend notified her.

'Sulli' is an unfortunately common offensive used for minority women online. But Khan says she was unaware of it until last week when the cyber-harassment happened. "I am a non-political account. I don't engage in trolling and haven't been at the receiving end of trolls," she says, away until now from that dark, brutal side of the internet.

The Action Being Taken: Big Tech, Are You Listening?

"It sent chills down my spine and made me so, so angry. There’s so much anger in me still that I’m trying to use constructively," she says. Khan has independently filed an FIR in the Sulli Deals harassment case as well, with faith in the authorities for due action.

"Earlier, these many legal actions did not happen. This time, more people have spoken out. And at the end of the day, I don’t think it has anything to do with Muslims or non-Muslims. If such humiliation happens to women, it can happen to any woman at all and become a menace. It has to be nipped in the bud," Khan says.


Ahmad meanwhile says she has sent a legal notice to Twitter India yesterday, "with steps on how they can make Twitter safe for women and why they should be held liable for these rape and death threats and harassment that continues undeterred online in spite of constant reporting."

Out of the three complaints after the May incident, only one translated into an FIR and that too was closed, Ahmad says. "It's a big thing people actually sat up and paid attention now. We know that nothing happened in May."

Where does the answer to curb and ultimately end this targeted ">cyber-bullying of minority communities lie? Will ensuring women's screen time and exposure on social media apps is reduced deter abusers and potential rapists? Because some on the internet, after the Sulli Deals harassment episode, seem to be suggesting that.

Women are being sold the same age-old, garbage patriarchy under the guise of well-meaning advice by netizens who are urging them to not upload too many photos, not have too many opinions, not draw too much attention to themselves. Lay low. Aren't we policed the same way offline too?

"Tell me how “don’t put your dp online” is different from blaming a woman for being raped because of her clothes?" Khan asks on Twitter. 

Call it brave-hearted courage or the development of a certain immunity to abuse, Muslim women are refusing to back down now and be silent spectators of how their identity is defined on the internet. "I will continue doing what I have always done. What people do to my pictures – they’ll not take away my dignity or who I am. I refuse to let them win in any way," Khan says.

Ahmad adds, "We'll stay here and we'll fight back and we'll see what worse they can do."

Views expressed are author's own.

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