Dozens of Muslim women in India found they had been put up for sale online, BBC reported.
Hana Khan, a commercial pilot whose name was on the list, told the BBC last Sunday, she was alerted to it when a friend sent her a tweet.
The tweet took her to “Sulli Deals”, an app and website that had taken publicly available pictures of women and created profiles, describing the women as “deals of the day”.
BBC said the app’s landing page had a photo of an unknown woman. On the next two pages Khan saw photos of her friends. On the page after that she saw herself.
“I counted 83 names. There could be more,” she told the BBC. “They’d taken my photo from Twitter and it had my user name. This app was running for 20 days and we didn’t even know about it. It sent chills down my spine.”
The app pretended to offer users the chance to buy a “Sulli” – a derogatory slang term used by right-wing Hindu trolls for Muslim women. There was no real auction of any kind – the purpose of the app was just to degrade and humiliate.
Khan said she had been targeted because of her religion. “I’m a Muslim woman who’s seen and heard,” she said. “And they want to silence us.”
BBC said GitHub – the web platform that hosted the open source app – shut it down quickly following complaints. “We suspended user accounts following the investigation of reports of such activity, all of which violate our policies,” the company said.
But the experience has left women scarred. Those who featured on the app were all vocal Muslims, including journalists, activists, artists or researchers. A few have since deleted their social media accounts and many others said they were afraid of further harassment.
“No matter how strong you are, but if your picture and other personal information is made public, it scares you, it disturbs you,” another woman told the BBC Hindi service.
The report said prominent citizens, activists and leaders have also spoken out against the harassment. The police said they had opened an investigation but refused to say who could be behind the app.
The people who made the app used fake identities, but Hasiba Amin, a social media coordinator for the opposition Congress party, blamed several accounts which regularly attack Muslims, especially Muslim women, and claim to support right-wing politics.
This is not the first time, Amin said, that Muslim women have been targeted in this manner. On May 13, as Muslims celebrated the festival of Eid, a YouTube channel ran an “Eid Special” – a live “auction” of Muslim women from India and Pakistan.
“People were bidding five rupees (67 cents; 48 pence) and 10 rupees, they were rating women based on their body parts and describing sexual acts and threatening rape,” Khan said as per BBC.