Home Lead Story “We feel scarred & traumatized,” say Muslim women victims of ‘Sulli Deals’

“We feel scarred & traumatized,” say Muslim women victims of ‘Sulli Deals’

A screenshot of the now deleted app

As dozens of Muslim women in India found themselves victims of an online ‘fake auction’ in which their pictures were shared and circulated on a website under the derogatory ‘Sulli Deals’, the incident has left the targetted women in shock and trauma. The victims are now seeking legal remedies to prevent further such incidents.

Ghazala Ahmad and Ubair ul Hameed | TwoCircles.net 

NEW DELHI – After more than dozens of Muslim women in India were put up for sale in a ‘fake auction’ online by unknown persons, the Muslim women victims have been “left scarred by the incident.”

The targeted women TwoCircles.net spoke with said the incident has sent “a shiver down their spine as they don’t even know on how many virtual or physical platforms the pictures were shared and the extent to which their pictures are being misused.”

In a shocking instance of growing Islamophobia in India, pictures of over 80 Muslim women were uploaded to a website and put up for sale online in a “fake auction”, sparking widespread indignation on social media.

The existence of the website was initially brought to light on July 4 when some women on Twitter began sharing their fear and indignation at finding their photos on the website without their consent.

Journalist Fatima Khan wrote, “Woke up this morning to realise my name, along with those of many other Muslim women was up on GitHub as a list of “Sulli Deals”. Thankfully by the time I came across it, it had been taken down. But just the screenshots sent shivers down my spine.” 

Khan further wrote, “How is this acceptable? What will be the punishment, if any, meted out to the people who made this list? Muslim men are lynched, Muslim women are harassed and sold online. When will this end?”

The pictures of Muslim women were uploaded to GitHub, which is an open software development platform, under the title “Sulli deal of the day”. Hindu right-wing trolls use “Sulli” as a derogatory slang term for Muslim women. Following the outrage, GitHub said in a statement that it has shut down the user accounts following “the investigation of reports of such activity, all of which violate our policies.”

Although the website was taken down after being mass reported following outrage, a Twitter user, who claims to be ‘Sulli Dealer’s Right Hand’ wrote that the website will be back, hours after the website was taken down. 

Acting on a complaint by National Cybercrime Reporting Portal, Delhi Police registered the case under IPC Section 354 A (punishment for sexual harassment) against unknown persons on June 7. “We sent notices to GitHub to share all crucial details about this website on Wednesday (June 7),” Prem Nath, Joint Commissioner of Delhi Police, Cyber Cell, said and added, “An FIR has been lodged and investigation is on.”

However, for the targeted Muslim women, the experience is nothing less than traumatizing. 

Afreen Fatima, who is an activist, and General Secretary of Fraternity Movement, an independent youth organization in India and whose picture was in the list of the Sulli Deals with the caption “Sulli deal of the day”, told TwoCircles.net that the incident is a “result of deep-rooted Islamophobia and desire of Hindu men to have Muslim women that make them do so.”

Fatima said that ‘Sulli Deals’ is not an isolated incident sexualizing Muslim women. “This website emerged only 20 days ago and we got to know about it only when our pictures circulated on this website. This is a kind of harassment that is ever existing. It has flourished because it has impunity and support from the establishment and powerful people,” she said. 

Fatima blamed the Hindu right-wing gatherings for the sexualization of Muslim women. “The reason it has come so far is that the Indian right-wing held gatherings and rendezvous where they give speeches furthering sexual violence, rapes and abduction of Muslim women publicly and on record. We have videos where Hindu priests are caught saying that one should rape Muslim women to reclaim that they are real Hindu and nationalist,” she added.

Fatima is referring to several Hindu Mahapanchayat’s held in Haryana recently where hate speeches were made against the Muslim community. On July 4, during one such Hindu Mahapanchayat in Pataudi in Haryana, a young man accused of shooting anti-CAA protesters near Jamia Millia Islamia last year encouraged the crowd “to kidnap Muslim women.”

Making it clear that all that has happened in the Sulli deals incident is evidence that it is not something new, Fatima said, “Anyone who is trying to delink this whole incident from the Hindu majority’s apartheid against Muslims is trying to dilute the gravity of what has happened and is happening. There is filth in Hindu Majority’s mind and blood on all their hands.” 

Another target of the online ‘fake auction’ Nabiya Khan, a poet and a Muslim Activist said, “People are trying to whitewash this whole issue as ‘women only’, which is not. Only Muslim women are on their target, and when we assert this we are branded for dividing women community based on religion. The kind of intimidation and harassment Muslim women face, upper castes Savarnas are not even close to it or the fear we go through.”

Khan said that the solidarity that the Muslim women get is fine but “those offering solidarity should stop equating our traumas and struggles with theirs.” 

“They enjoy the privilege of being the majority and upper caste. And this can be proved with the outrage we witnessed during the “Bois locker room” incident. We can’t see any such outrage when it comes to Muslims or Muslim women,” she said. 

Speaking about the response of her family towards the incident, Khan said, “My parents are unaware of this. They will be worried if they got to know and will ask me not to upload pictures or remove them. Not because they don’t understand the issue, but because they are concerned. And their concern is justifiable. But removing pictures is not the solution. If not pictures, they will use our names next time; they can morph the pictures and misuse it.”

Khan said that most of her friends stood in support of her. “They condemned the issue and felt outraged because they know the impunity enjoyed by upper-castes Savarnas. Many of them were also victims of the Sulli Deals. We came in solidarity with each other and decided to go legal. We have filed a collective FIR in the case and look forward to action,” she added. 

Although her pictures were shared online and sometimes this prevents women from sharing their pictures online or going offline, Khan is deterred not to remove her pictures.

“We are not going to remove our pictures. If we did, this will give more strength and chances to them to threaten us. We have created this online space to speak for ourselves and others after a long struggle. We can’t let it go due to some faceless trolls. Our activities on the internet will be usual. We are not intimidated, we are angry,” she said. 

Another Twitter user who identifies herself as ‘K’ on Twitter told TwoCircles.net that she is not sad about what happened to their images but “worried and concerned about the vulnerability of women and to which extent their existence can be misused against them.”

“Women are the easiest target for the right-wing brigade. They (right-wing trolls) have all the privilege to get away as they enjoy impunity from the State and government,” she said. 

She said that the moral policing women are facing after this incident is another obstacle that women face.

“The worst thing about this incident is that men are telling us not to post our pictures on social media from now onwards. Have they ever wondered why women who wear hijab or veils are getting raped? Their pictures are misused as well,” she commented. 

Legal recourse
The Muslim women victims of the online ‘fake auction’ are now seeking legal remedies which can help them to find a solution to combat or limit such incidents.

“We are going to pursue this matter legally, as it has not started today and is not going to end today. We need to take a strong step so that it can never happen again. We will also try to find out a way to identify all such platforms which propagate such content, out of our knowledge,” Twitter user K said. 

Incident widely condemned
Many governmental and voluntary organizations came out in support and condemned the Islamophobic campaign to target, harass and intimidate Muslim women.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) took suo moto cognizance of the ‘Sulli Deals’ incident. Rekha Sharma, Chairperson of NCW has written to Delhi Police demanding FIRs to be filed and investigation to be started in the matter seeking Delhi police to provide the information about the investigation within 10 days. A copy of the letter has also been sent to the Delhi Commissioner of Police Cyber Cell.

Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) has also sent a notice to Delhi police directing them to ensure fair and speedy investigation. It has asked the Delhi police to provide a copy of the FIR registered in the matter by July 14.

In a letter issued by Swati Maliwal, Chairperson of DCW, she has written, “Many women had to leave social media platforms after their images got circulated. This is a very serious matter and constitutes cybercrime.” 

Delhi Police Special cell has filed the case under section 354 A of the Indian Penal Code and the investigation is ongoing.

On the same lines, Mumbai Police has issued letters to Twitter India, Github, and the CEO of Github Nat Friedman to reveal the information of the ‘Sulli Deals’ user.

An FIR was also registered by Mumbai police as one victim is a resident of Mumbai, Maharashtra.

The Editors Guild of India also released a press statement after they found that images of journalists and other professionals were misused on the app.

“The vile attack is symptomatic of underlying misogyny in some sections of the society, especially against Muslim women as well as those who have been outspoken critics of the current government,” reads the letter.

The letter further states, “The EGI is deeply concerned about the misuse of digital media spaces to harass women journalists to intimidate and silence them.”

Although many legal complaints were made by women and these organizations, Police after starting the investigation have not made a breakthrough or arrests in the case till now. 

Online targeting of Muslim women in India is nothing new
The Sulli Deals incident did not happen in isolation. The targeting of Muslim women in India – both online and offline has been going on for some time. Earlier this year, on the Muslim festival of Eid, a YouTube channel run by an Indian namely the ‘Liberal Doge’ posted pictures of Pakistani women and asked viewers to “rate” the women and “auction” them off to each other based on their physical appearance.

An investigation by an independent media outlet Article14 revealed that there were scores of accounts on social media with content that demeaned Muslim women as sex objects for Hindu men. “The nature and content of these posts point towards an organized but obscene, and illegal, campaign by followers of the Hindutva right-wing ecosystem,” the report said. 

According to the report, these accounts share hundreds of pornographic videos of women in hijab every day, with inflammatory captions such as ‘Hindu tigers, f*CK us”.

Many times, these accounts use images of actual Muslim women stolen from their social media accounts as their display pictures and post them with obscene and Islamophobic captions.

Women from Kashmir, Shaheen Bagh protestors, Muslim women professionals across the spectrum have been targeted by these Hindutva extremists with Islamophobic, racist, casteist, and misogynist abuse, day in and day out. 

After the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution in Jammu and Kashmir, an army of right-wingers started abusive campaigns against Kashmiri Muslim women. In fact, Chief Minister of Haryana Manohar Lal Khattar went on to say that “they will bring girls from Kashmir for marriage after the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution.” 

Following the abrogation, YouTube was abuzz with misogynistic songs directed towards Kashmiri women. 

Kashmiri women and Indian Muslim women have been subjected to this kind of sexism and sexualization through their pictures, if not their bodies.

Muslim media professionals like Rana Ayyub and Arfa Khanum Sherwani have been the target of hate and threats of sexual violence on social media platforms like Twitter. Activists and women who are vocal and critical of Islamophobic and anti-Muslim policies and the ruling Hindu Bhartiya Janata Party are also on their target.

‘Sulli Deals’ amid rise in hate crimes against Muslims under BJP
The ‘Sulli Deals’ incident targetting Muslim women has occurred amid a rise in hate crimes against Muslims in India, especially since the BJP government came to power at the Centre in 2014. Every other day stories of Muslims getting beaten, abused, and lynched are making headlines. Earlier this month, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that the organization was “concerned about religious freedom conditions in India”.

International rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) in February, accused the Indian government of adopting laws and policies that “systematically discriminate against Muslims and stigmatize critics of the government.”

“Prejudices embedded in the government of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have infiltrated independent institutions, such as the police and the courts, empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and attack religious minorities with impunity,” HRW had said.

For victims of the ‘Sulli Deals’, the incident has only highlighted the vulnerability of being an outspoken Muslim women in India.


Ghazala Ahmad is a multimedia journalist. She covers stories related to Muslims, women, disadvantaged groups, minorities, communalism, politics and discrimination. Her Twitter is @ghazalaahmad5. 

Ubair ul Hameed is an independent multimedia journalist hailing from Kashmir. His work has appeared in The Wire, The Quint, Madhyamam, Muslim Mirror among many others. His Twitter is @ubairulhameed.