This New Year’s eve, I received a notification that I have been tagged in a tweet by some alleged ‘Khalsa Warrior'. When I opened it, it said,
"Your Bulli Bai of the Day is Khadija."
The tweet carried my LinkedIn profile picture on it with a yellow banner. Not realising what the term meant, I instantly reported and blocked the account, thinking it to be malicious bot-generated spam.
The gravity of what it actually meant only dawned upon me when I read the news the very next morning.
Following this, some well-wishers, including fellow journalists and lawyers, reached out to me, alerting me that my name was on "the list". Some had even tagged me in threads with the other women mentioned on this list.
That is when it occurred to me that I had been auctioned on the internet because of my gender and religious identity.
I say this with conviction, because the only thing common to the women on the list was that they were all vocal Muslim women occupying considerable influence in the public space.
Most were journalists like me, simply doing their jobs. Some were even activists. Unfortunately, even minors were not spared.
My former feelings of dismissal soon turned into feelings of disgust, shock, and anger. Initially, I wondered why this had to happen to me. I always used to think that I was treading on the ‘right’ side of the law, by not posting anything offensive to the establishment and exercising due care and caution to keep it that way, thinking that this would somehow perennially grant me immunity.
My Twitter feed and tweets were mostly restricted to reporting only on legal news and courtroom exchanges. However, what I did not know at the time was that it did not matter to them what I posted. Instead, what mattered to them was the identity I was born with. To put it simply, I was targeted because my last name is Khan.
Unable to keep it inside me anymore, and needing some guidance, I told my friends, family and colleagues, who said that they would support me no matter what course of action I wish to take. Knowing that I had people on my side made me feel like I was not alone, and gave me the courage to speak up about it.
Breaking the news to my parents, however, was the hardest part because just last week, we lost Dadi and most of us were still reeling from that trauma when this news broke out. Honestly, I have to commend my parents and family for their bravery and courage and for handling it with ease and grace.
They did not seem surprised, as we have seen the harassment that Muslim women journalists have to encounter on a daily basis; with the likes of Rana Ayyub, Ismat Ara being subjected to rampant trolling and targeted harassment on social media.
Unfortunately, not everyone on the list had the privilege of speaking up against the perpetrators. I know of some young girls on the list who had no option but to resort to shutting down all their social media accounts and censoring themselves to comfort someone else's ignorance.
While I am glad that this time around, the authorities took swift action and arrested the alleged perpetrators, I also recently read an article which spoke of a 21-year-old accused who claimed that he had absolutely no remorse about committing a crime and instead thought that he was doing the right thing.
Statements like these are most chilling because it makes one realise how deep the rot has seeped in.
Even as the scars of our auction-induced trauma are far from healed, it is undoubtedly amusing to see comments like,
“When educated women like you decide to outrage on the religious basis of the case and not on the agenda, that itself is a defeat of the fight against online abusers."
“Relax. It’s not like you ACTUALLY got auctioned!”
While the account has now been suspended and the GitHub link is not accessible anymore, I do not know how to suspend these constant feelings of nervousness and anxiety, coupled with fears about my own safety. There has been a lot to process over the last few weeks and I often wonder if I will come out of this stronger or scarred. No matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to shrug it off.
All I hope and pray for is that I live to see a day where we are able to feel safe and secure with the knowledge that no person could even dare think of harassing one, let alone 150 women in such a despicable manner.
I hope to see a world where people are unflinchingly in solidarity against any attempt to silence, debase or humiliate Muslim women.