A 19-year-old Hindu woman and two men have been arrested in India for promoting an app that demeans Muslim women by advertising them in a spoof auction.
The app showed photographs and derogatory comments about 100 Muslim women, mainly vocal critics of the government, social activists and journalists. The pictures were uploaded without consent and given captions such as “deal of the day”.
Police arrested Shweta Singh, 19, Mayank Rawal, 21, and Vishal Kumar, an engineering student, on charges linked to creating and sharing the app on Twitter.
The targeted women ranged in age from teenagers to pensioners and included the Bollywood actress Shabana Azmi.
It is not the first time such software has been used to insult Muslim women. In July an app appeared and promoted about 80 women “for sale”. Both were hosted on the software development platform GitHub. The apps, named after male and female genitalia, have been taken down and GitHub has said that it is co-operating with Indian police.
Muslim women were disappointed that the July incident failed to lead to arrests and some believe that the lack of action emboldened repeat offending. The Delhi Commission for Women said that it was appalled by the police’s failure to take action at that time.
India’s 170 million Muslims already feel undermined by Narendra Modi’s government. Critics have long argued that his brand of Hindu nationalism is stoking anti-Muslim sentiment. Last month speakers at a gathering of religious leaders were filmed calling for Hindus to take up arms to “finish off” Indian Muslims.
Nishat Hussain, who campaigns for Muslim women’s rights in Rajasthan, said that the perpetrators were “destroying their own dignity, not ours”. She said: “This kind of disgusting behaviour pleases the government. It makes them happy. This is what they want. Since they have silenced anyone who criticises them, what is there left for us to do?”
Arfa Khanum Sherwani, a journalist, was among those whose photos were posted on the app. “I reported on the last auction at length but it was still a shock to know that my name and photo were there this time. Last time the women were not so well known. This time they have used the photos of prominent women, so it’s an attempt to disempower the most powerful among us,” she said.
The incident comes amid rising tensions and incendiary rhetoric from Hindu nationalists against Muslims.
In Gurgaon, just outside the Indian capital, Hindu vigilantes have stopped Muslims praying in the open, even though they were using spaces earmarked for the purpose by the authorities.
In some cities, Muslim street vendors selling food have been harassed on the grounds that their meat dishes offend the sensibilities of Hindu vegetarians who are passing by.