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‘Church and our own people didn’t support us’: Kerala Professor whose hands were chopped off by Islamists reveals in his autobiography

The professor had lost his job and was excommunicated by the Church. 4 years after the attack by PFI, TJ Joseph's wife had committed suicide.

TJ Joseph, a professor from Kerala, was accused of blasphemy in 2010. He was attacked and his hands were brutally chopped off by radical Islamists of PFI. In his memoir that has been translated to English recently, Joseph narrated how everyone, including his church, college, friends and neighbours, disowned him over the false allegations of blasphemy.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Joseph refused to accept that punishing the persons responsible will bring justice and asserted that religious fundamentalism is the problem.

Joseph’s memoir of the pain and suffering he endured over the false allegations of blasphemy was released in Malayalam 2020. Its English translation by Nandkumar has been recently released under the title, “A Thousand Cuts: An Innocent Question and Deadly Answers”.

An exam question triggered charges of ‘blasphemy’

In 2010, Joseph had framed a question paper for BCom second semester internal examination in which he used the word ‘Mohammad’ referring to the writer PT Kunju Mohammed. However, a section of Muslim fundamentalists believed that he used the word intentionally to insult the Prophet. Though Joseph was not at fault, a series of protests were launched against him, leading to the incident where some extremists chopped off his palm.

Joseph said that initially, people were sympathetic towards him, but many still believe that the punishment he had gotten was for a crime he had allegedly committed. He said, “I wanted to present the truth, and an autobiography was the ideal medium for it. Moreover, I wanted to reveal how insecure we are due to religious extremism. No one is safe in this country when such a situation arises.” Joseph said when a situation like his happens, everyone finds themselves “as ephemeral and vulnerable as cobwebs.”

The college and church disowned him

Joseph said the physical pain is nothing in front of what the college management and church did to him. He said that the principal and management of Thodupuzha Newman College and his church supported him when the controversy first erupted, but in later stages, everyone left him alone. He was dismissed from the service over alleged blasphemy.

The church excommunicated his family, and pastoral letters were read in 120 churches in the Kothamangalam diocese against him, justifying the church’s action to disown him. Friends and family members stopped visiting his house out of church’s fear. He said, “My attackers were blinded by fundamentalism, and they gave me only physical pain but what my own people did to me was even worse as it affected my family and me in all ways.”

The suicide of his wife

The whole controversy had an adverse effect on his wife, Salomi. The attack that happened on July 4, 2010, and the orders of dismissal from college that came on September 1, 2020, broke Salomi mentally. Lack of income, legal expenses and continuous harassment sent Salomi into depression. Though his well-wishers continued to support him during that time, the mental state of his wife kept deteriorating. On March 19, 2014, after coming back home from a session with a psychiatrist, Salomi committed suicide.

Her death and public outrage forced the college to reinstate Joseph but only two days before the date of his retirement. He said, “Losing her was hard for me and what was painful was the fact that she could not see me back in the job, which was her biggest wish.”

‘Religious extremism is the problem, punishing the culprits will not bring justice’

The second phase of the trial at NIA court is underway. 13 of the accused have already been convicted. However, Joseph said he did not support the “tribal belief of delivering justice by physical punishment” as it would not bring back his palms or normalize his life. He said, “The accused were mere tools of those who propagate fundamentalism. I have already forgiven them.”

Asserting how ddangerous religious extremism can be, Joseph said, “I wanted to reveal how insecure we are due to religious extremism. No one is safe when such a situation arises. All the rights we enjoy as citizens, that religious harmony we harp on, are as ephemeral and vulnerable as cobwebs.”

Only three of his ten fingers are functional.

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staff
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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