Thursday, May 23, 2024

Making a deal: Sexualization and dehumanization of Muslim women

Illustration: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

(Warning: Abusive texts are quoted in this article. It might be triggering for some readers.)

The spectacle of the auctioning of Muslim women online that appears to be one among the list of cybercrimes done against women seeps deep down in the communal hatred held against them. These women were specifically targeted for their membership in the minority community and for the fact that they are politically assertive. This target comes from the anxiety that arises from the conflict of what and how the Hindu-right wants to perceive a ‘docile’, ‘non-political’ and ‘oppressed’ Muslim woman. It is also a part of the communal fascist scheme of the Sangh against the minority that is not of ethnic cleansing in one apocalyptic gesture but the possibility of intimidation that is going to be displayed as perpetuating sadism.

On the 4th of July, more than 80 Muslim women saw themselves being tagged on Twitter through an app called ‘Sulli Deal’. All of these women are active, assertive and vocal on social media that suggests specific targeting of them. It is an absolute intervention into their personal liberty, freedom of speech and political agency. It is a clear attempt to threaten them for life and dignity for being vocal about their rights and status as equal citizens of the country, as Muslims and as women.

The symbolism behind ‘selling’ and ‘owning’ Muslim women online in an auction is a declaration of the impunity enjoyed by the Hindu-right wing upon the atrocities and crimes committed against Muslims. Any online abuse or portending of sexual violence such as that of putting up Muslim women for sale on ‘Sulli Deals’ is an act of double dehumanization and sexualization by the Hindu-right wing. Reducing them as commodities to be exchanged in the market as their deals. It is done to bring them under spiralling fear and to make them retreat from the public spaces whether physical or virtual where they assert themselves as minority women to the discomfort of the Sangh.

Targeted online harassment or in-speech aggressions against Muslim women however is not an uncommon episode. Just that this time, the numbers were large enough to come to the public’s attention and could gather a subsequent outrage. Such similar incident had happened in May where a Youtube channel called ‘Liberal Doge’ was auctioning Muslim women from India and Pakistan in a live by displaying their pictures posted on Eid. The live show was being run with a description “aaj apni tharak bhari ankhon se larkiyan taarenge” “today we will satiate our lust staring at these women” following which there were bids taken upon them through various Twitter handles. It is a part of the humiliation process of the Muslim community and particularly Muslim women who are not only criminalized but also subjected to sexual objectification and abuse.

On a daily basis vocal and outspoken women such as Rana Ayyub receive rape threats and intimidation on social media. Safoora Zargar was arrested by Delhi police under UAPA in April 2020 she was 14 weeks pregnant. Vile things were said about her pregnancy like ‘Give her a condom’, ‘saare sheher me halla ho gaya Shaheen Bagh sherni k pet me lalla ho gaya’ and many other such harassing comments were put up on Twitter by people including BJP party politicians and workers such as Kapil Mishra and Manoj Kumar Azad. Such hatred for Muslim minority women cuts across the gender divisions in the Sangh. In 2019 Sunita Singh Gaud, a BJP Mahila Morcha leader had called out for gang rape and murder of Muslim women.

All of it speaks of a dark sexual obsession about the allegedly extra-fertile Muslim female bodies that inspires and sustains paranoia and revenge. It breeds in the roots of hyper-Hindu nationalist masculine anxiety to have access to the bodies of Muslim women that is denied to them, to possess and dishonour them and their community. In 2002 in Gujarat, VHP had openly circulated flyers signed by the then state general secretary Chinubhai Patel. The flyers came with the warning “We will cut them and their blood will flow like rivers. We will kill Muslims the way we destroyed Babri mosque”. It was followed by a poem:

“The volcano which was inactive has erupted. It has burnt the arse of miyas and made them dance nude. We have untied the penises that were tied till now We have widened the tight vaginas of the bibis…”

it takes pride in the carnage of the Gujarat 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in which Muslims were massacred, Muslim women were raped, pregnant women’s wombs were destroyed and children were killed. Muslim women’s bodies are seen as the breeding ground for a war of progeny and bringing disgrace to them would mean bringing disgrace to their entire community. The poem declares this war. Communal and sexual violence against Muslim women affects their spatial and physical mobility and accessibility. Similarly, cybercrimes affect their accessibility to both online and physical spaces as the fear of stalking and threat to their life becomes real and evident. It is created through various means. Such impending fears are generated and instilled among the community into their everyday lives to only ghettoize them and their voices.

‘Sulli Deals’ signals to the reminding of the Muslim women of their position and perception in a society charged with the Hindu sentiments and the fears that they have to live with. It reflects the vulnerabilities that they are reduced to irrespective of their other social locations and of the costs that they have to bear being women and being Muslim.

Areesha Khan
Areesha Khan
Areesha Khan works as a research assistant at Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati.

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