On New Year’s Day, Hasiba Amin was enjoying some quality time with her family in Delhi, India. But in the afternoon, she decided to check her phone, instantly ruining the happy family get-together for her.
That’s when Amin saw that she’d received a flood of disturbing text messages from friends warning that her photo had been featured on the “Bulli Bai” app.
Her heart sank.
“It felt triggering and humiliating,” she said during a phone call with Insider.
Amin, who works as the social media convenor for India’s Congress Party, was one of more than 100 influential Muslim women featured on “Bulli Bai” — an app hosted on GitHub, which has since been taken down.
“Bulli Bai” is a phrase that combines vulgar slang for the word “penis” in southern India with a word common in northern India meaning “maid,” according to Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of Indian fact-checking website Alt News, per CNN.
“Bulli Bai” featured stolen images of exclusively Muslim women and offered them for “sale” in fake auctions.
Users “offered their price” for the women by sharing their profiles to Twitter in quote tweets, Amin said. “The commentary was very sexual in nature, extremely explicit,” she explained. “They were also very classist and Islamophobic.”
Indian police have arrested four people in connection with the app, BBC News reported.
Vishal Jha, Shweta Singh, Mayank Rawal, and Niraj Bishnoi — all between 18 and 21 years old — are suspects, per the Indian newspaper The Print.
This isn’t the first attempt to harass Muslims in India by using their stolen photos in a fake auction.
In July last year, Amin’s photo was featured on an app called “Sulli Deals.” The photos of more than 80 Muslim women were displayed, with some featuring as “deals of the day.”
Police have investigated “Sulli Deals,” per BBC News, but nobody has been charged in connection with it.
Hana Mohsin Khan, a commercial pilot from Noida, was featured in “Sulli Deals” last summer. She described the experience as “traumatic.”
Khan told Insider that when she checked out “Bulli Bai” on New Year’s Day, she was horrified to see several of her friends included this time around.
“People were laughing, commenting, saying horrible things, sharing it on their page as if we were cattle or animals,” she said. “It was very degrading.”
The pilot said it’s emblematic of what Muslim women are facing in India. “We are being viciously targeted,” she said.
Qurutulain Rehbar, a Kashmiri journalist who featured on both apps, told Insider that apps’ names alone signal that they were designed to “dehumanize” Muslim women. The terms “bulli” and “sulli” are sexist and usually Islamophobic slurs typically used by internet trolls.
“These are derogatory terms which Hindu radicals use,” Rehbar explained. “It’s hard being a Muslim woman in India, and I think their intention is to make us feel humiliated.”
Amin agreed, saying that the apps exist in an “ecosystem of hate” that is bolstered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support of Hindu nationalism that promotes the hegemony of Hinduism in India.
According to a recent report by Delhi-based human rights organization Citizens Against Hate, there has been a rise of Islamophobic hate crimes in India since Modi came to power in 2014.
And it’s not only social media that is used to threaten India’s 200 million Muslims. Vigilante violence against Muslims by Hindu nationalist groups has become more widespread. Experts have warned, according to DW, that anti-Muslim attacks are now becoming rampant in India.
Amin said that knowing the political climate in India, she fears the humiliation she endured online could translate into “real-life” violence.
“If I’m dehumanized and my picture is out there, or my Twitter handle is out there, my details are probably out there,” she said. “What guarantee do I have that someone will not see me on the road and actually come and attack me?”