Being a Muslim woman in India: A story First person account of a young woman harassed online as part of the “Sulli Deals” auction scandal
11, Aug 2021 | Noor Mahvish
India is known for its multi-traditional and cultural values. People practice different faiths, speak different languages, are of different colours, cultures and traditions. “Unity in diversity” in the world’s largest democracy. But when it comes to a particular community, things change and views differ, values change.
Even within law enforcement and judicial appraisals, identities matter. India glorifies women as goddesses, but when it comes to women (and men) of one particular community, the “Muslim community”, things are very different. So much that the “auction” of Muslim women is treated as normal, as if it were akin to the auction of clothes or sale of groceries! Or maybe ‘She’ is just flavour of the month (or day).
On July 4, 2021, I, Noor Mahvish, a third-year law student and student activist from Kolkata, saw a subject going viral on Twitter. Dubbed as the “Objectification of Muslim women”, my first response was that “this is not new”; such objectification of Muslim women and hate speech against the Muslim community is common, a sick political attention-grabbing tactic by the followers of Veer Damodar Savarkar and Nathu Ram Godse.
Soon, however, I realised that here was something different. There exists an app named “Sulli Deal”, that has uploaded the pictures of Muslim women, also making public their personal Twitter handles and all other information. The Sulli Deal app that was hosted on GitHub listed (as if to auction) the profiles Muslim women with their pictures, as if they were objects. My picture and information were also made public. Along with me, there were 80 other Muslim women who have been listed (sic) on that app. The Women who were targeted are very vocal on social media, they proudly represent their community and are bravely fighting against this fascist regime. The most common thread behind those listed on Sulli Deal is that they are vocal Indian Muslim women.
Shocked to see that Muslim women are being “auctioned” by this Sulli Deal App, I checked out the app myself and was shocked to find a few of my social media friends also derogatorily portrayed there. It was on July 5, 2021, a day later, that I got to know that I, too, am listed in the app as a “Sulli Deal”. Sulli is a derogatory term which is used against women and on Sulli Deal, Muslim women were portrayed as “loose” and “available” women, much like a piece of chocolate or a material object which is being auctioned by the host. Clearly, people were actually enjoying this.
I was completely shocked to find myself on the list. I have faced Islamophobia in my school days. I was a hijabia (woman wearing the hijab) from a very early age because I love wearing it. I come from a town near Allahabad city and have experienced targeted humiliation: a few bikers coming by shouting slogans like “Pakistan bhej denge” (will send you to Pakistan). I actually wanted to become a doctor, but this incident impacted my life so deeply that I changed direction completely and took up the challenge to uplift and fight for community rights, and equality, and non-discrimination, against the fascist regime. It was after this incident my thoughts and priorities underwent a complete change. The first-hand experience of this level and extent of Islamophobia in India was enough to bring home the realisation that I don’t feel safe anymore, as an Indian Muslim woman. I decided to continue with studies in Law, so that I could then begin to fight –legally– Fascism in general and the discrimination that the Muslim community faces in general.
The 2002, Gujarat carnage stands out for its extensive and specific targeting of women, young girls and children, who were subjected to the most sadistic and vicious forms of violence, all and only because they were Muslim. A majority of the women who suffered this violence were then burnt alive. Amongst the survivors, many have spoken about the assaults but many have been silenced for fear of further attacks and for fear of censure from their own families and community. Besides the lack of faith in the system of justice, the humiliation faced by women who dare to challenge taboos and demand punishment for gender crimes like rape, have been silenced as has been the natural cry for retribution and justice.
The “sexual violence” across the state of Gujarat consisted of en-forced nudity, mass rapes, gang-rapes, mutilation, insertion of objects into bodies, cutting of breasts, slitting the stomach and reproductive organs, and carving of Hindu religious symbols on women’s body parts.
The Nellie Massacre in 1983 in Assam. Nearly 2,000 Muslims were slaughtered by a mob in just over six hours.
Delhi in 1984, where Indian Sikhs in general and Sikh women in particular were targeted, Meerut-Hashimpura in 1987, Bhagalpur in 1989, and Bombay in 1992-93, to name just a few. In each and every such genocidal carnage against the Muslim community, and other minorities, Muslim women have been raped and have faced an extreme level of brutality.
The followers of Veer Damodar Savarkar are closely following his footsteps. In Savarkar’s treatise to a militarized Hindu nation in the making, he exhorted followers to use “Rape as a Political Tool.” Criticising the medieval ruler Shivaji for showing compassion and empathy to women and girls of captured populations, he strongly advocated (sic), the rape and impregnation of Muslim women as a “political tool to ensure the subjugation of the Muslim community”.
In 2018, the Kathua Rape case saw an eight-year-old Muslim girl from the nomadic Bakherwal community in Jammu being raped inside the precincts of a temple. Widespread protests followed, including the sickening mobilisation(s) to side with and in support of the accused. People have protested in favour of rapist, because the rapist belongs to upper caste of Brahmins (caste who believe that they are superior above all). Being raped being auctioned or being gangraped or any other extreme level of brutality is fine if it is happening to Muslim community (Muslim Women, or even Dalit girls and women).
There are so many Islamophobic incidents, even potentially genocidal in character, every day. Only a few get high-lighted however, because this orchestrated hate is not a widespread concern among Indians.
When I first saw my picture on Sulli deals, I was completely at a loss for words. It took me three days to come forward and even file a complaint at the police station because my hopes (for justice) were too low. Not a single main-stream media outlet is ready to highlight the issue about this auction of Muslim women consistently because it is not a matter of wider concern. “They are Muslim women, not high class/ upper caste Brahmin women” to get the chance and privilege of a wider outrage is what appears to be their reason for ignoring us. This is a matter of concern. It has been around a month now, but not a single arrest has taken place. There is no campaign in any national newspaper or media outlet (the Fourth Pillar of Democracy). After being “sold and auctioned” by Sulli Deals, it took another month, a whole month, for my complaint to be converted into an FIR! “If there is such a struggle to get one FIR registered, I cannot imagine how much one will have to struggle to finally get justice,” is the bleak thought that crosses my mind.
The deep mental trauma of this experience is with me each day. It cannot be completely verbalised. I know I am being put through this hate and humiliation test just because I am a vocal Muslim woman. Is this the penalty I am being made to pay because of my articulate battle against a fascist regime?
Moreover, the Bio of the App (Sulli deals) also contains the (militarised) slogan of present-day politicised Hindu culture “Jai Shree Ram“. In India, the slogan “Jai shree Ram” is not a religious slogan anymore. It has turn into a political slogan to gain attention, to incite the killing of Muslims in the name of Lord Ram. From Danish to Phelu khan, Tabrez Ansari, Ekhlaq khan…and the list goes on. Hundreds of Muslims were killed in the name of the Cow and Lord Ram. Hate crimes against the Muslim community are increasing day by day.
Interestingly, some people are trying to dilute (de-categorise) the whole issue by saying, “Sulli Deal is a matter for all women. It is a Women’s issue and is the result of patriarchy.” Undoubtedly it is. But it is much, much more deep-rooted than just that. It is also reflective of a deep-rooted Islamophobia. It is not just a gender issue. It is much more than conveying just misogynistic thoughts. It is all about Muslim women, they have targeted us because of our religious identity. Please stop presenting this issue as simply or only a Women’s issue. In 2019, when Muslim women were leading the world’s largest peaceful protest against a fascist government, they had to face patriarchy and misogynistic comments. Then too, “other” women were promoting/urging the rape of Muslim women.
“There is only one solution for them (Muslims). Hindu brothers should make a group of 10 and gang rape their (Muslims) mothers and sisters openly on the streets and then hang them in the middle of the bazaar for others to see,” said a social media post in Hindi by Sunita Singh Gaur, a BJP Mahila morcha Leader. She goes on to say that Muslim mothers and sisters should have their “honour looted” as there is “no other way” to “protect India”.
The “Auction of Muslim women” doesn’t even get the attention it deserves because it is all about being Muslim women.
Lastly, I want to convey my message to everyone. Maybe you can forget these series of derogatory acts against me and the Muslim community. Maybe you will, or can ‘move on’ to other issues, but believe me, those who have faced this, just like I am going through the trauma, this “auction” will haunt us for the rest of our lives.
I will fight to get justice through legal means. I can’t let this go, am not ashamed of my identity and my thoughts, you cannot break my spirit to fight against Islamophobia and fascism. The person who did this and the group of people who were praising and supporting these derogatory depictions, should be ashamed of their own identity.
*Note from the author: I am a 3rd year law student and student activist. Am nothing but a woman who has dared to speak against the fascist regime. Nothing but a Muslim who objects to the discrimination. I have been actively involved in many social development projects to eradicate poverty, and am working to educate children irrespective of caste and religion.
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