Muslim Women for Sale? A New Low for Hindutva

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Photo used for illustrative purposes only.

A new and toxic definition of Hindu masculinity sees domination over Muslims as central to being a man

Rafia Zakaria

THE women who were targeted were shocked when they found out. Last week, over 80 Indian Muslim women discovered that they had been put up for ‘sale’ on a hosting platform called GitHub. The women included were educated and prominent, including a commercial pilot, research analysts and journalists. An app using a derogatory term for Muslim women was created to present the women on the platform as “S**** deal of the day”.

Under the photos of many of the women was their personal information and statements that the women could be purchased. People were bidding for the women, offering different amounts of money for them. When the women found out last week, the pictures had apparently already been up for 20 days with their information available to anyone who logged on. As one woman put it: “It doesn’t matter how strong you are, but if your photo and other personal information is made public it scares you, it bothers you.”

It was only when news of this incident began to spread and the women began to speak out, that the owners of Github finally took the platform down. The women’s information, of course, had already been publicly available to trolls who could now harass them online and offline. Some of the women went ahead and filed FIRs against the people responsible for the online degradation.

The Delhi police registered the FIRs but seemed unmotivated to do anything. When one of them, an alt-right troll named Ajeet Bharti tweeted that there was nothing wrong with what GitHub had done in “making good deal available to masses” no action was taken against him at all. “These people are not sorry and they are not scared because they know nothing will happen to them,” said one of the affected women despondently. A spokesman from GitHub, the platform that had allowed these allegedly unknown trolls to post this ‘auction’ of Muslim women, said that the company was “against discrimination of any kind”.

Except discrimination, or rather vengeance against an imagined past when Muslims ruled over Hindus, is exactly what appears to be on the mind of the many Hindutva trolls that lurk online. As recent controversies over the building of temples by razing mosques, threatening movie directors for positive depiction of Muslims and various iterations of harassing Muslim women prove, a new and highly toxic definition of Hindu masculinity is under construction. This new Hindu masculinity sees real and imagined domination over Muslims, particularly Muslim women, as central to being a strong man, a Hindu man and a powerful man. Various branches of the BJP and its genealogical progenitors including the RSS are working hard to ensure that this model of masculinity dominates across the vastness of India. The BJP’s Hindutva troll army, therefore, makes it its daily business to pursue and intimidate everyone that is not under their Hindutva umbrella: Muslim women, lower caste women or people from any other group that they oppose are their choice victims.

This troll army does not limit itself to only harassing Muslim women within India. The delicate pride of these Hindutva trolls is wounded any time any Muslim woman indulges in any critique of India or Modi or the BJP. Having muzzled their own press, they resent the press in other countries that can say the things they have forbidden dissenting Indians from saying. The alternate histories, alternate stories, alternate realities that have been constructed for the purpose of stifling dissent and to promote fascist domination are the same material that enables harassment of religious minorities as an emblem of strength.

The most frequently expressed gripe against me by the Hindutva trolls monitoring this newspaper’s website is that I should turn my attention to the Hindu women being abused in Pakistan and made subject to forced conversions. There is no doubt that similar flavours of masculinity exist in Pakistan and everywhere else in the world. But the existence of many varied forms of misogyny and toxic masculinity in all parts of the world does not excuse its existence in India, which continues to credit itself on the world stage as the world’s largest democracy whose plurality is its strength. That India is quite obviously not the real India; as is evident by the degrading and hateful abuses hurled at these Indian Muslim women. The real India of 2021 is petty and toxic, eager to inflict increasing torture on those it perceives to be powerless and unable to count on the state for protection. Indian Muslim women fit the bill.

It is a treacherous moment for all of India’s minorities. The Covid pandemic’s heavy casualties and its exposure of the terrible ineptitude of the Indian government have left behind a nation awash in shame and embarrassment. As the source location of the Delta variant, the country continues to face travel bans from most of the world. Unemployment, inflation and an economic crisis is looming. All of these circumstances put together are undoubtedly inflicting a great deal of misery on millions of people. A healthy nation would have the collective moral resources to handle this trying moment.

Sadly, India is not the healthy nation it had the potential to be. The country’s armies of software engineers and tech workers, humiliated by their circumstances, have turned to inflicting abuse and harassment online. Many, no doubt, are in search of a quick power trip that bolsters their ego. Setting up online auctions for Muslim women whose pictures and information they have pulled from the web provides the instant gratification, that rush of power felt by all bullies, that makes them forget their actual and enduring failures. The India that exists at this moment appears to be brimming with such entities, trolling, harassing and abusing, and together constituting the most misogynist India that has ever existed.

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The views expressed here are author’s personal and Clarion India does not necessarily subscribe to them

c. Dawn

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