Vishal Jha, Shweta Singh, Mayank Rawal, and Niraj Bishnoi — all between 18 and 21 years old — have been arrested for creating an app called Bulli Bai that ‘auctioned’ hundreds of Muslim women journalists, activists, and others including the 52-year-old mother of missing JNU student Najeeb Jung. The four not only circulated the pictures of Muslim women, but also spewed hate, bigotry against Muslims, belief in Hindu supremacy and misogyny on social media. A similar case of auctioning of Muslim women through an app called ‘Sulli Deals’ and hosted by software development platform GitHub, took place in July 2021 but the Delhi Police still has not made a single arrest in that case.
Vishal Kumar Jha was the first to be arrested in the Bulli Bai app case on Tuesday, three days after the case was lodged, by the Mumbai Police, which picked him up from Dayanand Sagar College of Engineering in Bengaluru where he was a student.
Shweta Singh, a native of Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh, was the next to be arrested by the Mumbai Police cyber cell on Tuesday from Uttarakhand. Udham Singh Nagar City Superintendent of Police Mamta Bora said Shweta’s social media activity was in line with that of “Hindu fanatics”.
On Wednesday, 21-year-old Mayank Rawat, an Army officer’s son and a student of Delhi University’s Zakir Hussain College, was arrested from Kotdwar in Uttarakhand’s Pauri Garhwal district by the Mumbai Police, which tracked his cell phone location.
Four days after the Delhi Police registered the FIR, it arrested Niraj Bishnoi from his house in Jorhat, Assam. The Delhi Police claims he is the “mastermind”. It is emerging that he was also involved in the Sulli Deals app case, had targeted Congress’ national media coordinator Hasiba Amin and put her ‘on sale’. Son of a businessman, Niraj allegedly developed the Bulli Bai app in November 2021, updated it in December and created his Twitter ID on 3 January, according to Deputy Commissioner of Police, Intelligence Fusion and Strategic Operations of the Delhi Police, K.P.S. Malhotra. He has been suspended by his college Vellore Institute of Technology, Bhopal. The police are now investigation whether Niraj had created the Sulli Deals app.
The Mumbai Police said in a statement that Twitter handles — @sage0x11, @jatkhalsa7, @hmmaachaniceoki, @jatkhalsa, @sikhkhalsa11 and @wanabesigmaf — were used to amplify the Bulli Bai app content. Police said the Twitter handles claimed that the app was created by a ‘Khalsa Sikh Force’, an attempt to mislead and create a rift between Sikhs and Muslims. Vishal Jha’s involvement came to light when the police were looking into one of the handles that carried the name ‘Khalsa Supremacist’.
The case has made national and international headlines, with massive outrage against the Delhi Police for its failure to act in the previous ‘Sulli Deals’ case. The Mumbai Police’s response and the series of arrests, as also the impunity with which these young minds acted against the Muslim community on social media makes Bulli Bai app ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Sulli Deals 2.0 — except in action
In the Sulli Deals case, there has not been a single arrest yet. Sources say that GitHub refused to submit information and asked the investigating agency to take the legal route — MLAT — described as a “tedious” process. The Cyber Cell of Delhi Police is still trying to trace the accused in the case. The Sulli Deals app was active for 20 days before it was taken down by GitHub. The Bulli Bai app was off the website within a day.
In another instance last year, photographs and identities of several Muslim women were uploaded on social media without their consent. On 13 May, ‘Liberal Doge’ — a hate-filled YouTube channel, shared pictures of Pakistani women in an abusive video as an “Eid Special”.
Delhi Commission for Women chief Swati Maliwal slammed the Delhi Police, saying their inaction and callous behaviour led to the Bulli Bai case.
Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi also tweeted about the case, saying she repeatedly asked Information Technology Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw “to take stern action against such rampant misogyny and communal targeting of women”.
Congress MP Dr Mohammad Jawed tagged Union Home Minister Amit Shah and asked for action in both the cases.
Many others were similarly outraged.
Radicalisation of the young and ‘educated’
So where do Niraj, Shweta, Vishal and Mayank get this impunity?
Niraj tweeted from his handle — @giyu44 — that it was him who had created the app and the police had arrested the wrong people. He did all this sitting at his home in Assam after returning from Delhi on Christmas. The Delhi Police tracked the IP address and knocked on his doors Wednesday 11pm. Officers seized his laptop in which they have allegedly found morphed images and profiles of the Muslim women he ‘put on sale’.
He even threatened a Muslim woman with ‘Bulli Bai 2.0’.
You can’t find Niraj on Facebook or Instagram. He is on Quora. A report on his social media activities by The Quint reveals a deeply Islamophobic, bigoted, homophobic, misogynist and sexist mind.
Reports and social media suggest all the four arrested in the Bulli Bai app case have been radicalised. And the means are widely available. Thousands watch self-proclaimed protector of Sanatan Dharma and head priest of Dasna Devi temple Yati Narshinganand, who did his engineering from Canada, passing Islamophobic comments on his YouTube channel and Facebook page.
Educated youth in India pursuing their degrees in reputed universities and colleges are now using tech and Internet to wage an online ideological war against communities. Targeted violent contents are openly shared across all platforms — Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, Instagram, WhatsApp. For instance, the video of the Muslim man who was killed in Palwal, Haryana was first shared on Facebook. It was later uploaded with background music, but later taken down. The video of a 14-year-old Muslim boy who was beaten up inside the Dasna Devi temple where he had entered to drink water was also uploaded on social media, with many sharing it with objectionable and hateful comments.
Of late, these Hindu radicals have been divided into two groups — ‘Trad’ and ‘Raita’. Trads are ‘traditionalists’ consisting mostly of oppressor caste Hindus who spew venom against Dalits and treat them with disdain. ‘Raitas’, on the other hand, disassociate themselves from ‘Trads’ and even celebrate their arrest.
Metaverse and the new dangers
In between all of this, we are heading towards — Metaverse — a virtual reality universe, where people can create their digital avatars. Beyond the excitement and thrill that Metaverse offers, experts say the harm and toxicity that it could bring remains a matter of concern.
“Radicalisation, misinformation, hate speech, harassment, and other online crimes have the potential of shifting onto the metaverse as well,” said Kazim Rizvi, digital policy expert and founding director of The Dialogue. He added that a strong data protection law is critical to ensure user privacy.
“With addiction to social media being a challenge as it is, the metaverse, which is a lot more engaging than regular social media, is bound to amplify the psychological strain that addiction causes along with a loss of sense of reality,” Rizvi said.
In an internal memo, Meta Chief Technology officer and former Facebook employee Andrew Bosworth had said that this virtual reality could be a toxic environment for women and children, adding that “moderating what people say and how they act at any meaningful scale is practically impossible”.
In fact, the lurking dangers of metaverse have already knocked doors. A woman on the virtual reality platform Horizon World said that she was groped by a stranger. Meta’s internal review committee said that the user hadn’t activated the “safe zone”.
Cyberspace is already a difficult terrain when it comes to tracking crime for investigating agencies. With radicalised educated youth, metaverse could only increase mental violence against oppressed communities and women.