05/28/2024

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Bulli Bai App case : an analysis

This article is written by Rachel Sethia, it covers the dark side of technology, the facts of the case, FIR against the accused of the case, arguments of the parties involved in the case, the order of the court and a critical analysis of the case.

Introduction

With the era of digitalisation and expansive digital field lies an alarming field, one where vulnerabilities are exploited and harm is perpetuated. The case of Niraj Dashrath Bishnoi vs. The State of Maharashtra (2022) also known as the Bulli Bai App case serves as a reminder of the dangers that accompany unregulated digital spaces. We delve into the crime of the Bulli Bai App case from its inception to its demise to uncover the complexities of this digital phenomenon and its profound societal implications. This case emerged as an alarming scenario regarding privacy concerns. Cyber violence which has witnessed this in this case has targeted the minority religious group of women which express the power of assertion. The ineffectiveness on the part of the police force can also be a cause of the problem. Like in the matter of Sulli deals, after the registration of FIR, there was nearly no development for almost six months. These kinds of situations hamper the dignity of women. 

The incident came into the picture in January 2022 when the FIR was lodged by the victims in Delhi and Mumbai and the police started the investigation, All the six accused were arrested and a chargesheet was filed in the court in March 2022, with that, the case finally reached to the Additional Sessions Court in both Delhi and Mumbai after a long proceeding and arguments in July 2022. Firstly, the Delhi Court granted bail to three accused and following that the other three accused were granted bail by the Mumbai Court.

This article talks about how technology is being misused to spread extremist ideas and increase gender based violence. Further, it deals with the horrors implanted against Muslim women which has given rise to radicalization and issues regarding the same. This article showcases how the cons of technology have suppressed the pros of technology and have made us question the safety of women even in a virtual world. In addition to this, the article mentions the approach of the courts of India in dealing with such incidents. 

Dark side of technology

This case is a significant example of how technology can be used to spread extremist ideas and to promote harmful actions, especially gender based violence. Radicalization is the process by which individuals adopt extreme beliefs and ideologies often leading to violent or disruptive actions. This element is present in the concerned case. 

Bulli Bai App was an online platform where users could engage in anonymously that normalised and perpetuated misogyny, harassment as well as intimidation against women as an echo chamber. This virtual space worked best for those with similar extremist convictions thereby making participants more misogynistic through further radicalisation. Consequently, through exploiting the possibilities of anonymity and global reach that technology provides, this application created conditions for acceptable but harmful behaviours blurring the lines between online and offline radicalization. 

The impact of this radicalization went beyond individual victims, promoting gender based violence as well as discrimination within society. This case also enlightens the world on the concept of internet terrorism within the nation. Misogynistic content distribution and promotion of gender based violence against females manifest internet terrorism Hence, it is apparent that this case highlights the urgent requirement to address digital platforms’ role in facilitating radicalization towards a more inclusive respectful internet environment.  portrays the loopholes of the legal framework and inadequacies of the technological safeguard in relation to the offence of cyber bullying. 

Facts of the Bulli Bai App case

On 1st January 2022, the Muslim women of our nation were battling with themselves and the world outside to address the threats, trauma and dignity that had been targeted once. The Bulli Bai app operated on an open-source platform called GitHub. It is the world’s largest repository used by developers, start-ups and huge technology firms to build an app. Bulli Bai App is the Islamophobic slur used by the rightists to troll Muslim women. 

Bulli Bai App is built on stolen photos of women for fake online auctions, with an ulterior motive to intimidate and degrade women who voiced their opinions publicly, especially those women who raise their voices for women’s rights and social justice. Journalists and activists like Rana Ayyub, Hiba Beg and Fatima Khan were among many who were targeted. 

Despite having a small user base initially, the app gained widespread attention and spotlight after photos and tweets related to it were shared on Twitter which resulted in public outrage and demands for action against the perpetrators. 

Shweta Singh was arrested from Uttarakhand, an 18 year old girl who was the first accused in this case. She was the one operating the Twitter handles and posting the tweets and pictures. After her, a 21 year old boy Vishal Jha was also arrested from Bangalore after 10 hours of interrogation. The third accused in this case was arrested on 5th January 2022, nabber from Pauhri Gharwal in Uttarakhand, named  Mayank Rawl, a 21 year old son of serving army personnel posted in Jammu was also arrested by a 3 member team of the Mumbai Cyber Police.

On 7th January 2022, the mastermind behind the crime, named Neeraj Bishnoi who was operating the app and the Twitter account was arrested by the IFSO unit of the Delhi Police Station Force.  Another arrest was made in Odisha. All the five accused were taken to Mumbai and were remanded by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in Mumbai. 

During the interrogation of Neeraj Bishnoi, it was found by the police that Neeraj was disharmony with the Muslim community and had an intentional target towards the Muslim women who had an opinion and were working for their rights. 

FIR against the Bulli Bai App case

It was mentioned in the FIR that the informant came to know that this app is a community driven by a Sikh Group and was created to select Muslim women as maids due to Islamophobic sentiments and all this was mentioned in the bio of one handle whereas another handle had a picture of the informant with a caption that she can serve as an escort maid. 

Charges against the accused 

It can be seen from the facts of the case that the accused had intentions to stir religious discord and potentially incite communal violence. However, the more disturbing aspect of the case is that the youth of our nation is involved in it and instead of channelling their skill, and energy towards productivity and development of the nation, they have indulged in such criminal activity. Another disturbing factor in the case is that the accused targeted women, increasing the already existing issue of women’s safety in our country. 

The charges against the accused of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 are as follows:

  1. Section 153A: promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence etc and doing acts prejudicial to maintaining harmony: This section aims at punishing those who spread enmity through spoken or written words, visual representation with an intention of causing hatred, disharmony or disturb the public tranquillity on the basis of religion, communities or castes. Aid in the organising of certain movements, drills that encourage as well as train the participants of such movements to use criminal force and violence upon people belonging to other racial and religious groups and communities.     In the case of Bilal Ahmed Kaloo vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1997) the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that it is important to clearly check whether the alleged enmity is caused between two different groups. Therefore, mere mentioning of a religious community while inciting the religious sentiments of one community cannot constitute an offence under Section 153A.          
  2. Section 295A: This Section broadens the scope of Section 153A, these two sections go hand in hand and interact with each other and the offences listed under this section are interlinked. Section 295A states that those who insult or attempt to insult any religious sentiments of any particular group by way of gestures or words are liable to be punished. The key difference between these two sections is that Section 295A criminalises those who offend or insult the religion or religious groups, while on the other hand  Section 153A criminalises creating enmity between two different groups and not just within a single group as under Section 295A.                                                    
  3. Section 153B: imputation, assertions prejudicial to national integration: It addresses the offences under mining national integration by promoting disharmony between different religions, racial, linguistic, or regional groups as well as castes or communities. Making, publishing or circulation of assertions, rumours or reports likely to provoke feelings of hatred, ill-willing or enmity amongst the religious groups is prohibited under this section. Imprisonment up to three years, a fine or both are punishments prescribed under this section. To constitute an offence under this section it should be done with the intention of fostering disharmony between groups. Intention to incite discord is an important element under this section, mere expression of criticism or opinion does not make an offence under this section. 
  4. Section 354: Assault of criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty: It is a crucial section in addressing and determining the act of violence and harassment against women, emphasising the importance of respecting their dignity and rights. This section punishes any individual who assaults or uses criminal force against a woman intending to outrage her modesty with imprisonment which may extend to two years or with a fine or both. In the case of the State of Maharashtra vs. Rovena Aadnya Amit Bhosle (2021) it was established by the Hon’ble metropolitan magistrate court that women can also be held liable for outraging the modesty of other women. The accused, a woman herself, assaulted her neighbour by tearing her nightdress in the passage of a building, outraging modesty and assaulting her in front of many others. Hence, the accused was convicted and sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment for outraging the modesty of another woman.  
  5. Section 354D: This section mentions stalking which includes both online and physical intimidation of women. It also outlaws electronic monitoring without consent. In the case of Zeenat Shaikh vs. State of Maharashtra (2021), it was held by the Bombay High Court that cyber stalking which involves checking her use of electronic communication without her consent falls under Section 354D. The court observed that actions like these can cause harassment and mental trauma to the victim.  
  6. Section 509: gesture, words or acts intended to outrage the modesty of a woman This section plays a vital role in deterring verbal and gestural harassment against women and upholding their right to dignity and respect. Any individual having the intention to outrage the modesty of a woman, utters any word or sound or makes a gesture shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term up to three years, a fine or with both. The gender of the perpetrator is not an element under this section. 
  7. Section 500: This section is punishment for defamation therefore, to constitute the offence of criminal defamation, the accused’s words, signs or imputation must either be meant to injure the reputation of a person or the accused must have reasonable knowledge that his or her behaviour may do so. Simple imprisonment for up to two years or a fine or both is the punishment for this section.  
  8. Section 67 Information Technology Act, 2000:  It is a section for punishment for the publication or transmission of obscene material, which will include sexually explicit content and depiction of children engaged in such acts in electronic form. People convicted under this section can be punished with imprisonment up to 7 years and a fine which can be extended to 10 lakh rupees. In the case of Maqbool Fida Hussain vs. Raj Kumar Pandey (2008), the Hon’ble Delhi High Court had applied the principle of ‘generalia specialibus non derogant’ and held that when the crime committed has some nexus with electronic medium, provisions of the Information Technology  Act will apply, similar provisions will not apply.

Arguments by both parties

Arguments by the Applicant/ Accused

  1. The accused submitted that the contents of the FIR do not constitute any offence against him and the offence is politically motivated and there is no direct evidence to link the accused to the creation or publication of objectionable material mentioned in the FIR and the chargesheet.
  2. The accused further submitted that the prosecution has already preserved the evidence which was in electronic form and cannot be tampered with. 
  3. He also submitted that a forensic examination of both his phone and laptop is done, therefore his detention is no longer required. 
  4. It was submitted by the applicant that he is 20 years old and due to this case he was also suspended by his college where he was studying Btech. 
  5. He also submitted that he does not have any previous criminal antecedents and is ready to abide by the conditions of bail. 

Arguments on behalf of the Prosecution

  1. The prosecution highly opposed the bail application and submitted that prima facie the involvement of the accused/ applicant is seen in the case as he has prepared the Bulli Bai application. 
  2. It was further submitted that the accused by preparing such an application has promoted enmity amongst different groups and this act of the accused is prejudicial to maintaining harmony and also to national integration. 
  3. In addition to that it was mentioned that all the accused in the case are in contact with each other through platforms like Instagram and Twitter. 
  4. The prosecution contended that the offence is serious in nature and that if the accused is granted bail there might be the possibility of creating a serious issue regarding law and order. The accused is a resident of Assam and there is every possibility of his absconding after getting bail. 

Order of Session Court 

After hearing the detailed arguments on behalf of both the parties, the Additional Session Judge granted bail to the three accused namely Aumkareshwar Thakur, Neeraj Bishnoi and Neeraj Singh upon execution of a personal bond of 50,000 and one or two sureties of a similar amount. The Bail conditions included that they must visit Cyber Police Station every month and they cannot leave the country without prior permission of the court. Earlier the court also granted bail to the three other accused namely Shweta Singh, Mayank Rawat and Vishal Jha who were involved in the case. Aumkareshwar Thakur was accused of providing the source code for the application. Neeraj Bishnoi was the creator of the application whereas Neeraj Singh allegedly circulated pictures. 

Rationale

The court held that the investigation is complete and the chargesheet has been filed, the offence is based on electronic evidence which is in the custody of the investigating agency the accused has been behind bars for 5 months and it is pertinent to note that the other accused in the said case has been granted bail by the Patiala House Court Delhi. The required evidence is collected by the Investigation Agency, hence the continuous custody of the accused is no longer required. 

It was also mentioned by the Hon’ble Judge that the accused is a youngster and has already been suspended by his college therefore, further detention will hamper his educational career. Passing the order of bail the court held that it did not find any fruitful purpose that would be served by the incarceration of the accused. 

Critical analysis of the Bulli Bai App case

Misuse of technology led to the creation of the Bulli Bai app which helped in creating and spreading offensive content aimed at women, therefore, besides encouraging gender based violence, it also fostered fear and harassment in digital spaces. This misuse of technology demonstrates the urgent need for more informed consideration of ethical as well as technological aspects of digital platforms, especially legal frameworks that can combat online harassment effectively. It is important to note that the normalisation of harassment and objectification of women in digital spaces reflects deep-seated beliefs and attitudes that perpetuate gender based violence.

By simply amplifying these harmful stories, the application only went ahead in promoting existing power imbalances affecting women more negatively hence demonstrating how technology is linked to gender equality and social justice. 

Solving these problems demands a combination of legal language as well as collective activities geared towards challenging societal norms about women while advocating for equality. 

In short, the Bulli Bai app incident exemplifies how current legal systems and regulatory frameworks fall short of tackling online harassment and cyberbullying through existing law punishes an individual for stalking, but the implementation is difficult due to the jurisdiction and digital platform’s anonymity. This raises a fundamental question as to whether or not technology companies should intervene to stop the abuse of their services and the need for partnership between governments, civil society and tech stakeholders to find a lasting solution. Thus, a wake-up call to everyone is to prioritise the safety and future of humanity in digital platforms and to make a more inclusive and better online environment. 

Similarity between Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai case

The two cases of Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai App are two similar offences with the prevalent online harassment and mistreatment against the Islamic women of the nation. Both the offences were widespread on social media making targeted assaults where women were auctioned and were subjected to degrading and objectifying content. 

The emergence of apps like Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai stemmed from open source like Github. Bulli and Sulli are the Islamophobic slurs used by the rightists to troll Muslim women. Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai are apps built on stolen photos of women for fake online auctions with an ulterior motive to intimidate and degrade women who voiced their opinions for women’s rights and social justice.  

The case of Sulli deals happened in the year 2021 whereas the case of Bulli Bai happened in 2022. The Delhi Police was not able to catch the accused in the case of Sulli deals but a significant advancement took place when the Mumbai Police was successful in arresting all the accused in the Bulli Bai App case.  

Secularism : a myth or reality

Secularism is understood as a principle of separating the state from religious matters. It is a complex and debatable notion which is often taken as a guiding principle as well as a utopian vision of working of multi-faith nations but when incidents like Bulli Bai happen the bigger question which arises is whether Secularism is a myth or reality, particularly with regard to gender-based hate speech and violence against women through online communities. Bulli Bai’s case is considered a failure against the secular state for independent app bullying and hatred against women but on the other hand, it is pertinent to note that secularism itself is not only the reason behind such incidents it is other factors as well secularism provides the idea of equality it does not guarantees eradication of discrimination from the society. Secularism is the ideal scenario while incidents like the Bulli Bai app case is the effect of this idea for those who are not able to accept and understand the ideal scenario. 

Conclusion 

The appearance of platforms like Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals, which promote the objectification and exploitation of Muslim Women, underscores the pressing need for comprehensive measures to tackle cyber bullying, harassment and online abuse. While Law enforcement agencies are taking steps to address such crimes, the social ramification extends beyond reported incidents. 

Education plays a pivotal role in this aspect special attention shall be given to knowledge about cyber safety and fostering digital literacy in young individuals of the nation. Institutions like schools, colleges and universities shall make awareness campaigns to educate students and individuals about offences like cyberbullying and can teach them the necessary safeguards for protecting them from such offences happening online. If the underlying causes of cyberbullying are addressed and a supported environment is promoted, it can be a big step towards building a secular society in the true sense and a society which respects and celebrates all the diverse cultures and religions of the nation and no one shall be discriminated on the basis of their race, religion or beliefs and everyone can live with dignity and respect.

Fernand de Varennes, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of minorities, highlighted the unique vulnerability faced by outspoken minority women. In his tweet, he emphasised that the international community is closely monitoring trends like #bullibai and its predecessor, #sullideals, which seeks to degrade and intimidate minority Muslim women in India, warning against the normalisation of such behaviour. He tweeted, “They involve harassment and hate speech targeting minority women who speak out and need immediate and effective condemnation and action. As an independent expert for the United Nations, it is clear to me that what is at stake are our fundamental principles of equal dignity for all. Indian women, especially those from minority communities who continue to speak out for their rights and hence are targeted, are particularly vulnerable because of their identities. They should be unequivocally supported and any violence against them, online or offline, taken action against by concerned authorities immediately,”. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is Sulli Deal?

Sulli Deals was an app where Muslim women were degraded and objectified through their stolen pictures and were subjected to a fake auction online. 

Who made the Bulli Bai App?

A 21 year old boy named Neeraj Bishnoi from Assam made the app. 

What led to the creation of the Bullibai app?

The app was created to hamper the dignity of opinionated Muslim women who were vocal about the rights and equality of women.

What is Github?

Github is an open source platform. It is the world’s largest repository used by developers, start-ups and huge technology firms to build an app. The users of Github can manage code repositories with tools specially present for developers, tools like host, review, manage code and many more.  

How did the Bullibai app affect its users?

Users targeted by the Bullibai app experienced significant emotional trauma, reputational damage and in some cases even physical threats. The app created a culture of fear and intimidation amongst its user base. 

What type of content was shared on the Bullibai app?

The app shared a range of harmful content, including defamatory posts, derogatory remarks and personal attacks targeting women. 

References 

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