Cops arrest students linked to app 'selling' Indian Muslim women

Indian police arrest a 20-year-old man after he allegedly created an app that shared pictures of Muslim women for a virtual "auction", in New Delhi, on Jan 6, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Indian police have arrested four college students for their alleged role in an app that "auctioned" hundreds of Muslim women, including journalists, activists and those openly critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media.

Police arrested 20-year-old software engineering student Niraj Bishnoi, who created the GitHub-based open source app as well as social media accounts to popularise the auction, said Deputy Commissioner K.P.S. Malhotra of the New Delhi police.

This arrest comes after local media reported earlier this week that Mumbai police nabbed two men and a woman, aged between 18 and 21 years, for their suspected involvement in creating social media handles to promote the app.

At the start of the year, several women found their photos taken from their social media accounts and posted up for auction in the app called Bulli Bai - a derogatory term coined by online Hindu right wing trolls to describe Muslim women.

The app has since been taken down, the government said.

The case is a reflection of rising anti-Muslim sentiment as Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party pushes a Hindu nationalist agenda ahead of crucial state polls in the next two months.

Last month, video clips of a gathering of Hindu priests exhorting their followers to arm themselves against Muslims emerged on social media.

The outcome of the state polls, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, which is controlled by hardline Hindu leader Yogi Adityanath's government, will be an indicator of popular acceptance or rejection of religious polarisation.

In most instances, investigations of hate speech against Muslims tend to fizzle out.

A similar app to auction Muslim women emerged in May last year and the police have yet to make arrests in that case.

"The fact that it has happened for the second time and people have got emboldened says a lot," said Ms Sidrah Patel, who filed a complaint with the police in Mumbai after her photo was uploaded on the app in January.

"We need urgent intervention. We can't have such young people, or anybody carrying so much hate. It is terrifying."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.