NEW DELHI: Police in India are investigating how dozens of Muslim women were offered for “sale” in fake “auctions” online without their knowledge, in a case the victims say illustrates growing Islamophobia across the country.

Photos of more than 80 women were reportedly uploaded in recent weeks to GitHub, an open software development platform, under the title “Sulli deal of the day”. “Sulli” is derogatory slang for Muslim women.

Hana Mohsin Khan, an airline pilot, was alerted last week by a friend who directed her to a link that led to a gallery of images of women.

“The fourth picture was mine. They were literally auctioning me as their slave for the day,” Khan said. “It sends chills down my spine. From that day till today, I am just in a constant state of anger,” she said.

GitHub said it had now suspended the users’ accounts, saying they violated its policies on harassment, discrimination and inciting violence.

Delhi police have filed charges — but against unknown persons because they do not know the identity of the perpetrators.

Sania Ahmad, 34, who also found herself “up for sale” last week, points the finger at what she calls an online troll army of Hindu zealots in India that has proliferated in recent years.

They have become adept at hounding people including journalists and activists with thousands of abusive messages to the extent that some shut down their social media accounts.

Many among India’s 170 million Muslims say they feel like second-class citizens since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nat­ionalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

A string of lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs over so-called cow protection — a sacred animal for many Hindus — and other hate crimes have sown fear and despair in the community.

Journalist Fatima Khan, who was also among the women targeted on GitHub, said the fake “auction” fitted into this pattern. “How is this acceptable? What will be the punishment, if any, meted out to the people who made this list?” she tweeted.

“Muslim men are lynched, Muslim women are harassed and sold online. When will this end?”

Online harassment of women and girls — including threats of violence, rape and manipulated pornographic images — is a huge problem, not just in India.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2021

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