AUCTUONING FEAR – A Journalist’s story based in Kashmir
“I wonder what it is to be like her
To be shattered,
To be hurt,
To be broken,
And still, manage to stand so strong.
I wonder how many of us wish to be like her.
The one who often goes unnoticed.
A woman who carries a storm within her.
But refuses to let it show.
For it may destroy everyone around.
I wonder how it is to be the woman she is
A woman of power,
A woman of values and beliefs.
A woman, who values faith,
The independent one,
Wanting to stand on her own feet.
I wonder what it is to be the woman
Who often strives,
To be better
Then what she was yesterday,
Who puts down her dreams and aspirations for the ones she loves,
And yet fails to get the love she deserves.”
(Excerpt from Romani Arora’s “I wonder”)
I also wonder at the strength of Quratulain Rehbar sitting one day with girls, women who were the target of Sulli deals. Sulli Deals’ was an open-source app created by a Trad group that posted photographs and personal information of some 100 Muslim women online in 2021.
On 4 July 2021, several pictures of Muslim women were posted on Twitter, where each was described as a “deal of the day”. Rehbar, talking to these targeted women, was moved was shaken and surprised at the audacity and the low blows of the world. Bravely solacing them and sharing without sullying their pure names. It was a nightmare even for a journalist like her a shameful low to which hate crimes had sunk. Little did she know that her strong stance her humane reports and her unshakeable grit would make her the target.
January 2022 the same hub that hosted Sulli deals comes back with even more outrage in form of Bulli Bai targeting more women. It is a tool that purports to “auction” Muslim women and Rehbar was one of them. Was it just a mere coincidence that she was investigating the earlier app and her name came on the new one. Was just a mere coincidence that the same hub was hosting this inhuman decile and defamed tech tool, basic but malignant and hateful, which had been created with one explicit purpose: harassing women. The conjecture is all yours.
But the trauma the sleepless nights the incessant fear the bone-shaking intimidation was hers alone. Quratulain Rehbar says that her fear and anxiety knew no bounds. “I would get panic attacks in public places. Thoughts of how my family is suffering with all this haunted me. Frightened, I was spiralling out of control and suffering mentally“
Journalists are already faced with unprecedented challenges in this long-trouble region we call heaven on earth(Kashmir). But this auction was much more and beyond. Rehbar says that” There are only a handful of women journalists in Kashmir, and my relatives still give my parents a lot of grief for letting me follow my dream.I always felt as if I was being watched, not just by the state but the people as well. I stopped using Facebook to keep a low profile. Since Twitter is used less in my hometown, posting there is a safer bet.“
She further says,” I never want to become the story. As a journalist, I want people to read my stories, not about me. But in something like the BulliBai app case, I decided it was my responsibility as a journalist to speak out.” “No doubt, this aggressive action was fueled by a mostly indiscriminate culture of misogyny that pervades Indian society. But this time, the attackers did not pick on a random group of women. Their specific aim was to humiliate Muslim women in particular”, says Rehbar.
GitHub (the platform hosting the auction)itself has been blocked before in India, as well as China, Russia and Turkey, but has always been reinstated after backlash from users and technology businesses. Alarming and in a way a commentary on the sad state of women security. The people responsible for the various social media platforms that are being used to deliberately spread hate and misogyny against Muslims need to do a better job of monitoring problematic content. These apps have a responsibility to create a mechanism to track down unchecked abuse and to stop the spread of hateful views.
According to the report “Unsocial Media: Inclusion, Representation and Safety for Women on Social Networking Platforms,” published in May last year 52% of Indian women do not trust the internet with their personal information. Like in the case of Bulli Bai, most of us women have at one time or another felt so vulnerable that we started to worry that our homes and families might be at risk.
Unless the Indian government starts to effectively enforce laws against cybercrimes of this nature, such attacks will continue.
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