By including a Hindu man in the list, tactics to denigrate Muslim women have left behind signs of an ideological gang war within Hindutva.
After Vishal Kumar Jha, Mayank Rawat and Shweta Singh were arrested earlier this week, as part of Mumbai police’s investigation of the Bulli Bai app case, one Ritesh Jha wrote on Instagram, “Two of my younger brothers and sister have been arrested. The right wingers who are talking against them will be dealt with. Will see you soon kids #Mumbai meetup.”
Ritesh is best known for his YouTube channel, Liberal Doge, where he livestreamed Islamophobic, sexualised content while conducting an “auction” of Pakistani women on May 13, 2021. (The channel was later suspended by YouTube.) It follows that Ritesh would see himself as the venerable big brother of those accused of ‘auctioning’ Muslim women on the Bulli Bai app. What is surprising is Ritesh pointing an accusing finger at “right wingers”.
Created on December 31, 2021, the Bulli Bai app targeted more than 100 Muslim women﹘many of them journalists and activists﹘by circulating their photographs and inviting abusive, denigrating comments against them. Among the morphed photos on the app is one of a young man who requested anonymity when Newslaundry contacted him. His name indicates he’s Hindu. He also described himself as a right winger and follower of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
What is a conservative Hindu man doing on an app that has derogatory slang for Muslims in its name and was designed to harass Muslim women?
Trads vs Raaytas
So far, four people have been arrested in the Bulli Bai case. Between January 3 and January 5, Jha, Rawat and Singh were arrested by Mumbai police. On January 6, engineering student Neeraj Bishnoi was arrested by Delhi police, from Assam. According to Delhi police, 21-year-old Bishnoi is “the main conspirator and creator of Bulli Bai on GitHub”.
It’s evident that the primary aim of the Bulli Bai app is to harass Muslim women by sexually objectifying them. However, it seems that the tactics used to harass Muslim women were also being employed to target another unlikely group﹘other right wingers. Within days of Bulli Bai going online, one man joined the 100-odd Muslim women on the app's database, indicating a deep rift within the right wing ecosystem.
The Bulli Bai app was allegedly developed by Trads, which is an abbreviation of “tradition” and used to refer to those on the extreme right who are at loggerheads with another group known as the Raaytas (also spelled as Raitas). Raaytas are right wingers who are aligned with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals, which functioned much like Bulli Bai, have been promoted by Trads. When Sulli Deals was launched last year, the app’s bio said it was “a community-drive open source project by Hindu triads”.
Trads are known for engaging in online harassment with anyone who disagrees with their ideology. It is believed that the arrested accused in the Bulli Bai case identify as Trads.
Soon after Jha and Singh were arrested, a Twitter user with the handle @giyu44 tweeted that he had created the Bulli Bai app and the police had arrested innocent people. This seemed to add up with Singh’s admission to both Uttarakhand and Mumbai police that she had been acting on the instruction of a Nepalese national named Giyu. However, sources close to the investigation told Newslaundry that there was no proof of Giyu being a Nepali national and that he was likely to be Indian.
Factionalism within the right wing ecosystem has become so toxic and aggressive that all those who spoke to Newslaundry about it requested anonymity, saying they didn’t want to risk being identified and trolled by any of these groups. People seemed particularly wary of Trads.
“Of late, Trads have become like a cult. If you don't agree with them, they will not consider you Hindus,” said someone who has reported Trad activities to law enforcement in the past.
A source who has been labelled Raita by Trads told Newslaundry, “The young boys and girls [behind the Bulli Bai app] are part of a movement called Trads. They consider the ideology of BJP, RSS and Savarkar as their biggest enemies. They have large groups on social media with many youngsters. They consider Shankaracharya of Dwarka and Puri as their gurus and are strongly against anyone who doesn’t agree with their extremist ideas. Their ideology is based on a rigid caste system and they believe in caste supremacy. They wish to practice untouchability. These people don’t like the idea of progress for Dalits or, for that matter, any caste other than Brahmins. They are supported by a few portals and social media celebrities.”
The source said they didn’t approve of Trad strategies and that Trad handles regularly target Muslim as well as non-Muslim women. “Disrespecting women is totally not acceptable. It's an issue of women's safety and should be taken seriously,” they said.
A person who has been following the online rivalry between Trads and Raaytas claimed Trads enjoyed popularity among right-wing influencers and that there was a concerted campaign to “brainwash” young people to become Trad social media warriors.
“There are many eminent handles who are Trads and they brainwash youngsters on social media. They are quite successful and have created a whole army of such youngsters who engage in online hate campaigns. On social media, if somebody tweets a post which doesn't match their beliefs, then that person gets targeted and attacked,” said the source.
As an example, they mentioned the online harassment faced by Bengaluru’s current inspector general of police, D Roopa, who was trolled by the handle @TIinexile in 2020. When @TIinexile was suspended, the user set up a new handle﹘@BharadwajSpeaks﹘which accumulated over 1 lakh followers within a few hours of joining. Later, Kaushal Swaraj, BJP leader and former minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj’s husband, was viciously trolled by @BharadwajSpeaks.
An expert on right wing online activity explained the central differences between Trads and Raitas. “Trads follow the Smarta sect of Hinduism and consider current Shankaracharyas as their highest authority. Raitas are Hindutvavadi, political and aware Hindus from the mainstream. Raitas advocate ghar wapsi, widow remarriage and new age ideas which Trads consider against tradition. Trads consider the Sangh Parivar [RSS] to be Raitas," said the expert.
Another distinction was pointed out by someone who has followed the rivalry between Trads and Raaytas in recent times. “Both Trads and Raytas may target non-Hindus online, but Raaytas don’t write against Dalits whereas Trads target Dalits as well,” said this source.
Online vs Offline
As details about the accused in the Bulli Bai case come out, there’s been a general sense of disbelief that the young men and women who have been arrested could have voluntarily carried out such a hateful campaign. Uttarakhand police’s director general (DGP) Ashok Kumar told the press that Singh, 18, belonged to a poor family and had lost both her parents. “It seems she got involved in such activities for money,” said Kumar.
When asked about Jha, the head of Dayanand Sagar College’s department of civil engineering, H K Rama Raju said, “He was normal and obedient. His behavior was good on campus. I don’t have any complaints about him. However, his attendance was poor in the last two months and we notified his parents about it. Investigation is going on in the matter and we will take action only once he is proven guilty. Since the case is not proved, we should not harm the student. We should not spoil his future until it's confirmed.”
Yet, for all the sympathy Jha and Singh have garnered in the offline world, both have a history of online harassment. Their social media accounts have been suspended multiple times following complaints of trolling.
Jha’s most recent Twitter handle was @saffrontoxture, which was suspended before his arrest. Previously, his handle was @toxture. He also operated the handles @GangesScion and @mithilasher.
Singh initially adopted the handle @kadhiichaawal and followed Ritesh Jha on Twitter when he used the handle @seculardog. After @kadhiichaawal was suspended, she used @shreee01, which was active till her arrest.
A person who claimed to know Jha and Singh told Newslaundry that Jha and Singh have links to many Twitter users known for their online Islamophobia, like dentist Krunal Patel who ran the now-suspended Twitter handle @dankchikitsak, which had once claimed a Muslim man had created the Sulli Deals app.
A former right wing troll said on condition of anonymity, “These two kids who have been arrested are not the masterminds. They’re youngsters just brainwashed by conservative Right wing influencers. They [the influencers] infect their minds with hate under the guise of nationalism or patriotism and then use them to slander hate against others.”
Jha and Singh’s cause has been taken up online by Twitter user @giyu44, who has written posts appealing for their release. These posts tag the likes of Ritu Rathaur (@RituRathaur), who describes herself as a “Civilizational Hindu” who is “Fighting for Equal Rights For Hindus”; former director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Mannem Nageswara Rao; editor-in-chief of right wing news portal OpIndia, Nupur Sharma (@UnSubtleDesi); co-founder of another right wing news portal DO Politics, Ajeet Bharti; and other right-leaning influencers.
In one tweet, @giyu44 claimed the original Sulli Deals had been made by a Muslim, which is a rumour that Alt News had debunked last year.
The name Giyu has surfaced repeatedly in cases of online harassment of Muslim women. Newslaundry found a Giyu with the Twitter handle @giyu2002 was activated at the time when Sulli Deals made the news. The handle tweeted objectionable comments about Muslim women and was later suspended. It is currently inactive.
Another Twitter handle﹘@vedic_revival, ostensibly operated by OpIndia author Rambhakt Vedic﹘had retweeted @giyu2002’s tweets at the time. Vedic’s @vedic_revival also subscribed to Ritesh Jha’s Liberal Doge and tweeted in Ritesh’s support when Newslaundry revealed his identity.
There has been some speculation that Bishnoi, who was arrested earlier today and has allegedly created the Bulli Bai app, may be Giyu.
However, a person who filed a complaint about the online activities of Bishnoi (@Niraz7009), Krunal patel (@Dantchikitsak_) and Amit Nokse, with the Pune and Ahmedabad police in March 2021, told Newslaundry, “Bishnoi is not Giyu. I have been monitoring Bishnoi for a very long time and have reported about 15 of his handles, many of which were suspended. As mentioned by Mumbai police, a person by the name of Giyu is a citizen from Nepal…Giyu is just a handle name and that person is not from Nepal. The original name…is different but definitely it’s not Bishnoi.”
Newslaundry has learnt that Bishnoi used to operate from multiple handles such as @nirzz, @nirzzz @niraz7009 and @Nirz9006, and many of these were suspended.
Newslaundry also found that the Twitter handle @giyu44 became active only in January this year. The Twitter bio has an Instagram handle, which has as its profile picture the same morphed picture of the Hindu man from Bulli Bai. At the time of writing this article, the Instagram account had photos of three men and one woman, with offensive captions for each of them. At least three of these people are Hindus.
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