Two personalities, 2 apps, 1 attacking goal | Latest India News
Neither has a criminal record. Both are in their twenties and tech-savvy. The two are alleged developers of two apps on GitHub that targeted Muslim women, including activists and journalists by “auctioning” them. Now they are cellmates in a Delhi police station.
The similarities end there.
Delhi police officers who interviewed the pair said there was little in common between them. One wanted the world to know that he developed the GitHub application Bulli Bai, even defying the Mumbai police to arrest him; the other, the alleged creator of Sulli Deals (using an offensive and derogatory term for Muslim women), deleted all digital footprints and social media profiles to ensure he remained anonymous, and succeeded in stay for eight months.
Neeraj Bishnoi (21) and Aumkareshwar Thakur (26) are locked together in a cell at the Delhi Police’s Intelligence Fusion Strategic Operations (IFSO) Headquarters in Dwarka, South West Delhi. On Sunday evening, when police brought Thakur to the IFSO office, after arresting him in Indore, it was the first time the two men had met. Police say that for all those months the two men hid behind anonymous Twitter handles, but say they were part of the same virtual group where the plan to create such an app was discussed last year.
“Bishnoi wanted to be famous. Thakur wished to remain anonymous. Bishnoi is noisy. He tries to mislead the investigators. He even attempted to injure himself twice in police custody. Thakur is cold; perhaps he thinks he has succeeded in erasing the evidence. He doesn’t talk much and blames Bishnoi for setting him up,” said a police officer, who questioned the two men. Which is understandable. The first app was launched in July 2021, and if not for Bishnoi’s Bulli Bai, which launched in December – and if not for the survey that followed – Thakur might have continued to stay anonymous and safe.
Investigators describe Bishnoi as “cunning” and “emotionless”, and say he has no regrets about what he did. He also talks a lot, they add.
“He (Bishnoi) says a lot of things. He says he’s a communist. And then he changes his position and claims that his thoughts are leaning to the far right. But the evidence we have gathered suggests that he has no ideology. He spends hours on the Internet and only wants to defame women. His laptop showed that he is addicted to pornography. We recovered at least 153 tabs on his browser windows that were links to adult websites,” said a police officer who requested anonymity.
The officer described Thakur as someone who deliberately chose to target Muslim women. “Thakur seems to be the more rigid between the two. He was the leader of the virtual group on Twitter when the idea of creating an application was decided. He took the lead and developed the app. He took suggestions from group members about who whose photographs should be used. He seems to have radicalized himself after spending hours on social media. He didn’t tell us about any specific incident or anecdote about why he started hating any particular community,” another officer said, referring to Muslims.
Thakur is a freelance web designer, who obtained his BCA from IPS Academy, Indore. Bishnoi is a second year B.Tech student (suspended after his arrest) from Vellore Institute of Technology, Bhopal. Bishnoi, from Jorhat in Assam, is the son of the grocer.
Thakur’s father works with a private company in Bhopal. Police said the two were part of a Twitter group, Tradmahasabha, where in January 2020 a plan to defame Muslim women was hatched.
Thakur joined the group using one of his handles @gangescion. Bishnoi, too, was in the group with one of his handfuls.
“Bishnoi said he knew Thakur from this group. In fact, Bishnoi used the same code from Thakur’s app to create the Bulli Deals app,” said a third police officer who asked not to be named.
One dared the cops to arrest him, the other suppressed evidence
“You arrested the wrong person. I am the creator of #BulliBaiApp,” boasted a tweet from handle @giyu44 on January 5, a day after Mumbai police arrested three suspects in the case for allegedly sharing a tweet promoting the second GitHub app.
In the 24 hours leading up to his January 5 arrest, Neeraj Bishnoi repeatedly claimed on Twitter that he was the person behind the offending app. He even tagged pseudonyms like that of Satej D Patil, Maharashtra’s Minister of State for (Urban) Home and Housing, on Twitter, daring the Mumbai police to arrest him.
KPS Malhotra, head of IFSO, confirmed that Bishnoi is the owner of the @giyo44 Twitter account. DCP Malhotra said Bishnoi had in the past created at least five Twitter handles using different versions of the Giyo name, such as @giyu2002, @giyu007, @giyuu84, @giyu94, and @guyi44 to promote the app or make comments. disparaging against women. Police say Bishnoi even asked his interrogators to call him Giyo, a name of Giyu Tomioka, a fictional character who slays demons in the Japanese comic book and anime series Demon Slayer.
“He didn’t want to be arrested, so he masked his IP address and showed that he was posting the tweets from Nepal. He even claimed that he was from a place near Kathmandu. He wanted people to know he created the app but didn’t think we would digitally fingerprint him and arrest him at his home in Assam,” the third policeman said.
Meanwhile, in the New York Township settlement of Indore, Thakur was following the news. Delhi Police registered a complaint against the creators of the first app in July 2021, but the investigation came to nothing.
“Thakur used his iPad and iPhone to access social media, but after public outcry (after the first app) he logged out. He even logged out of all the Twitter groups he was in; deleted his Facebook account and the accounts he had in his own name; and did not stay in touch with anyone, even anonymously. We seized his electronic devices and sent them for forensic examination,” added the third policeman.
According to this officer, Thakur first joined Twitter using his own credentials in 2013. He completed his BCA in 2018 but worked from home, taking on web design assignments. “He started calling himself a Trad around 2019. He said Trad groups on social media are for like-minded people with a self-created philosophy of making sure the world shouldn’t change and stick to traditions.”
Two carefully lived lives
The two men spend hours on social networks but have different characters in front of their family. Thakur’s father, Akhilesh Thakur, who spoke to reporters after his son’s arrest, refused to believe the police allegations. He said he still believes Thakur was arrested only because Bishnoi named him during his interrogation. “My son told me on the phone that he didn’t do anything wrong. Some defendants took his name and he’s wrongly implicated,” his father told HT. The family said Thakur didn’t even do not part of any social media group, so claims that he was developing such an app were false.
In Jorhat, Bishnoi’s family is also unable to accept the police allegations. Police said they were not surprised the family knew nothing about Bishnoi’s criminal side. “Bishnoi, who has an opinion on almost every topic on social media and spoke vehemently about it through his anonymous accounts, was a completely different person when our officers arrested him. It cannot be explained. He was so connected to his family and seemed like a no-fault man. Here is a man who masked his IP address and dared the police to arrest him,” said a fourth officer.
Bishnoi’s father, Dashrath, has a different take on why he believes his son to be innocent. The man said his son only had one friend. They studied together from class 1. “They accused my son of hating Muslims and uploading photos. My son can’t do that. His best and only friend is Muslim. His name is Afzal.