Even by the plunging standards of justice, human values and democracy in India, the closure and partial demolition of a school for low-income, high-ranking students in the Madhya Pradesh town of Damoh in June was a new low in the abandonment of the rule of law by the state, its capitulation to Hindutva goons and the deliberate destruction of institutions.

The sequence of events began on May 27 when some of these goons saw a poster of the Ganga-Jamuna School – so named to honour North India’s once-syncretic culture – celebrating its state toppers and its 98.5% pass rate.

The girls in the poster, both Hindu and Muslim, were wearing scarves or hijabs, a dress code that was suggested but never enforced, as Hindu students and their parents told my colleague Kashif Kakvi.

Kakvi’s investigation of subsequent events revealed how the education and police departments found no substance to allegations these Hindutva extremists made about conversion of students and teachers to Islam, findings which were endorsed by the district collector.

Yet, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Home Minister Narottam Mishra relentlessly piled on the pressure, until, 16 days later, the school was shut, portions demolished and the education of more than 1,200 students stopped, leaving them and their families stunned.

BJP President JP Nadda with Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan during a roadshow in Khargone district on June 30. Credit: PTI.

“We live democracy,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in the US last fortnight, in response to a rare question he took from a Wall Street Journal reporter, who was immediately the target of a virulent attack for daring to pose a mild query about India’s democratic decline.

“And when you talk of democracy,” said Modi, “If there are no human values and there is no humanity, there are no human rights, then it’s not a democracy.”

Few of these things are evident in Modi’s New India, either by design or incompetence or both. Every time a new low is reached in new India’s debasement of democracy, the abandonment of human values and discrimination against minorities, a newer low comes along, a new red line is breached. This race to the bottom is made evident in Modi’s India almost every day, ignored by his government and his captive “godi”, or lapdog media, and cheered on by millions.

The relentless Hindu-first messaging of the ruling party and the government – often supported, subtly or otherwise by opposition parties – is rapidly establishing new realities in Indian society. In Congress-rule Rajasthan, a wanted cow vigilante named Monu Manesar roams free four months after the murder of two young Muslim men. Instead, the police recently arrested a protesting cousin.

The only positive thing – if you can call it that – about the events in Damoh is that no one died. That wasn’t the case in Maharashtra, where two young Muslim men transporting meat were brutally beaten, one to death, his fingers twisted backwards, hand fractured, cheek bones crushed. The remorseless nature of the atrocity was captured in graphic detail by Scroll reporter Tabassum Barnagarwala.

While 11 have been arrested, the dead man also faces a police case, a common phenomenon—in recent years, police have frequently acted against victims of lynchings, unsurprising since one in three policemen finds such lynchings a “natural” response to cow slaughter, either real or imaginary.

As I write this column, news has come in of a Muslim man transporting cattle bones – a raw material for medicine capsules – beaten to death in Bihar. The lynching of Muslims, as writer and journalist Ziya Us Salam wrote in The Hindu this week, “is reduced to a weather bulletin in the new India, pale and predictable”.

Muslims offer prayers on Eid-al-Adha at a ground in Gurugram on June 29. Credit: PTI.

If lynching is not new, perhaps ethnic cleansing is, evident in ample measure in Manipur, where more than 120 are dead and mobs have battled the army and security forces for nearly two months, as the prime minister inaugurates trains and stays grimly silent on the bloodletting and anarchy.

In the town of Purola, Uttarakhand, more subtle ethnic cleansing was revealed last month, another new red line was crossed. Muslims were menaced and forced out after fake allegations of “love jihad” degenerated quickly into a movement to keep Dev Bhoomi, the land of the gods, free of Muslims.

The plunge continued, as Hindutva fundamentalists stopped Muslims left in Purola from holding public prayers on the holy day of Eid this week. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami’s reaction was to double down on the false claims of “love jihad”. He said, “Some people are playing tricks with our innocent minor sisters and daughters.” In the pilgrim town of Badrinath, the police ordered the fix or six Muslims who lived there to offer namaz 35 km away “as a mark of respect” for the “religious sentiments of [Hindu] pilgrims”.

The past week was full of evidence of these new lows: largely ignored incidents of commonplace and casual Islamophobia and Islamophobic violence. A viral video showed Hindu students at a coaching institute in the town of Kota in the same state screaming “Jai Shri Ram”, as Muslim students quietly prayed in a room.

In Gujarat, parents and Hindutva extremists forced two schools to apologise for celebrating Eid, part of a programme to acquaint students with all faiths. In Karnataka, a school celebrating Eid was similarly harangued. Two Muslim men were tied, kicked and beaten near the chief minister’s office in Odisha’s capital. In Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, Hindutva extremists beat three Muslim truck drivers and two cleaners transporting animal remains to a pet-food factory. In Mumbai, the secretary of a housing society planted fake notes to try and evict the only Muslim family.

The stridency of hardline Hindu sentiments is emerging in India’s courts as well. In acquitting 35 men in anti-Muslim rioting from 2002, a sessions judge in Gujarat on June 12 blamed “secular media and politicians” for claiming the riots were planned, a familiar trope once limited to the fringes of social media.

This week, two judges hearing a case against Adipurush, a new movie on the Hindu epic Ramayana, deployed whataboutery commonly used in Islamophobic WhatsApp forwards. “Suppose a small documentary was made on the Quran,” said Justices Rajesh Singh Chauhan and Shree Prakash Singh, “Can you think what kind of a serious law and order problem would have been created? But because of the tolerance of Hindus, things are not turning ugly despite this blunder by filmmakers.”

As democracy and the rule of law make way for majoritarian and mob sentiment, the government escalates attempts to control the media, sidestep them by using social-media influencers and continues its squeeze on human-right defenders. The few independent media left in India serve the purpose of useful idiots – their dwindling presence allowing the government to claim that democracy is alive and well.

With general elections coming up in 2024, the Ram temple in Ayodhya and the start of a divisive new debate over a uniform civil code will ensure ample scope and opportunity to continue the subversion of the law, human values and democracy. The bottom may be some way off.

Samar Halarnkar is the editor of Article-14.com, a project that tracks misuse of the law and the hope it offers.