It was an innocuous prelude to a sports meet: a sarva dharma prarthana, or all-religion prayer, organised by the Mother Teresa International School in the coastal Karnataka city of Udupi on November 15. Students chanted “Om”, rang a church bell and sang the azaan – the last for 30 seconds.

But innocuous acts can quickly attract the ire of religious groups in this holy town. About 85% Hindu, Udupi boasts a literacy rate of 94% but has acquired notoriety for its illiterate, injudicious and often violent displays of majoritarian power. It is here that a Hindutva group successfully stopped Muslim girls in State-run or aided schools and colleges from wearing the hijab.

Fundamentalist Hindus were incensed at the sarva dharma prarthana, or to be precise, the 30-second azaan, and harangued school officials. They demanded the names of the six children who performed the azaan (some were Hindu). At this, the officials said they had “made a mistake” and apologised.

“We should have ensured that the students performed something else that represents the Muslim community,” the co-founder of the school was quoted as saying. “We ended the performance with asatoma sadgamaya [a mantra of peace from the Upanishads]…our whole intent was to project religious unity and harmony.”

Why did the school apologise for promoting unity and harmony? Quite apparently because they feared local Hindu groups, who – if the rule of law functioned as the Constitution provides – should have faced police prosecution for intimidation.

Instead, as these groups have increasingly demonstrated, they feel emboldened and empowered enough to enforce their own views, as they threaten colleges, raid pubs and resorts in pursuit of their own definition of morality. Muslim groups and extremists, too, ignore the rule of law, murdering Hindu fundamentalists and enforcing their own rules of moral policing. The difference is the Muslim groups get no support from the state. The Hindu groups, as Article 14 reported, obviously do.

While the concept of the rule of law originated with the ancient Greek philosophers, its modern avataar flows from former US President John Adams, who in the 18th century conceived of “a government of laws and not of men”, born of a common accord. While that concept has been the bedrock of democracies in general, the old consensus has faced steady erosion in what has been called the era of “post-truth”.

Students wearing saffron turbans protest outside a college in Udupi in February. Credit: PTI.

The post-truth era can be defined as a time when propaganda and disinformation lead to a situation where people are more likely to discard the consensus. They are more likely to act on personal beliefs and emotions formed and aggravated by such news than subjugate these emotions to a commonly held set of laws. Such an era is markedly easier to usher in if those who are eager to discard the rule of law themselves become the enforcers or makers of law.

The reminders that we are firmly in a post-truth era are available almost every day in India, as the rule of law – defined by the Constitution – slips away. That was clear just this week in the state where I live: Karnataka. Apart from the Mother Teresa school incident, two other indicators of the parlous state of the rule of law emerged 300 km to the east of Udupi in Mysuru.

One challenge came from a Member of Parliament from Karnataka and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The MP, Prathap Simha, objected to the architecture of a bus stop: it had domes, he said, which meant it was Muslim and would become a mosque. He warned his own government: pull it down or I will (The local member of legislative assembly, also from the BJP, protested, saying the bus stop was inspired by the Mysuru palace).

The second challenge came from yet another Hindu group, who threatened a Muslim Congress MLA with “last rites”, or death, if he built a statue of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of the kingdom of Mysore despised by many Hindus. There was no police action in either case.

There have been many more incidents like these, not just in Karnataka but across the country, illustrating how those pursuing religious and political agendas now feel empowered to openly challenge India’s rule of law, with no fear of its enforcers.

Those so empowered are also aware that these challenges to the rule of law have moved beyond mere threat and provocation. There are examples in India of majoritarian proclivities creeping and codified into the law itself, as my colleagues have extensively reported: from laws against cow slaughter, inter-faith love (here and here) and conversions, to often illegal and unconstitutional demolition of properties.

The American Bar Association observed that the rule of law does not exist independently from the people who make it, interpret it and live it. As these new rules slip into India’s legal framework, you could argue that a new rule of law is emerging, held together not by the consensus implied in once commonly held beliefs of Bhimrao Ambedkar’s time but in the views – and actions – of those who live in Narendra Modi’s time.

Samar Halarnkar is the editor of, a project that tracks misuse of the law and the hope it offers.