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When Islamists chopped the hand of a college professor in Kerala, alleging ‘blasphemy’ over an exam question

In an interview with The Times of India in September last year, Joseph refused to accept that punishing the accused will bring justice. He emphasised that religious fundamentalism was at the heart of the problem.

India has witnessed a recent spike in Islamist attacks against the Hindu community. Armed with fallible excuses, they have left no stone unturned to strike fear and terror in the hearts of common Hindus.

With the inherent ability of Islamists to quickly mobilise in the name of religion, the Hindus are left fending for themselves. And such incidents are not uncommon in the Communist-ruled State of Kerala, where even the minority Christian population is unsafe from the wrath of Islamists.

This becomes evident from the ordeal of TJ Joseph, a Professor of Malayalam at Newman College in Thodipuzha. On July 4, 2010, his hand was chopped off by Islamists associated with the radical Popular Front of India (PFI) over allegations of blasphemy.

The background of the case

In March of that year, Joseph had prepared a set of questions for the Malayalam language paper for 2nd-year BCom students. Reportedly, one of the questions asked students to punctuate a conversation between God and a character.

The conversation was extracted from the book ‘Thirakathayude Reethisasthram‘, written by Malayalam Director Kunju Muhammed. The character in the passage was that of a man suffering from schizophrenia and having a constant dialogue with God.

Without thinking much about the consequences, he named the man ‘Muhammed’ after the name of the Malayalam director. Islamists were quick to cry ‘blasphemy’ and interpret the question as a conversation between Prophet Muhammad and God.

The matter received widespread traction after the Jamaat-e-Islami-run newspaper, Madhyamam, reported about it.

Soon, radical Islamic outfits such as the Popular Front of India (PFI), Campus Front of India (CFI), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and even the Congress party-led large-scale protests against him.

A First Information Report (FIR) was lodged against him by the Kerala Police for stirring communal hatred under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). TJ Joseph tried to evade law enforcement authorities but it was in vain. He was arrested but was soon released on bail.

However, to make things worse, the Malayalam Professor was fired by Newman College, which is a Christian minority institute affiliated with Mahatma Gandhi University.

The fateful day and aftermath

The day was July 4, 2010. Joseph, who was 53 years old at that time, was returning home from church in his car at about 8 o’clock in the morning. He was accompanied by his sister and mother.

A gang of 6 Islamists laid siege on his car. Armed with an axe, they chopped off his hand below the wrist and ditched the severed part in a nearby land. The assailants also stabbed the Professor in the leg and arm.

Joseph’s wife tried to intervene but was chased away. The Islamists burst crackers and bombs to create an atmosphere of panic. They soon fled the crime scene, leaving an injured Joseph to fend for himself.

Joseph with a severed limb in hospital, image via Outlook India

The victim’s neighbours rushed him to Specialists Hospital in Kochi, which was located 50 kilometres away from his home. His financial situation was exacerbated after he was fired by his college.

Distraught by the aftermath of the incident that turned the life of TJ Joseph upside down, his wife Salomi committed suicide on March 19, 2014.

“During the trial, the court examined 306 prosecution witnesses, four defence witnesses, 963 prosecution documents, 29 defence documents, and 227 material objects. There were 54 accused in the case, of which 37 had been charge-sheeted and 32 persons had undergone trial,” reported The Hindu.

In 2015, the court found 13 accused guilty in the hand-chopping case. The accused included Jamal, Mohammed Shobin, Shamsuddin, Shanavas, Pareeth K.A, Younus Aliyar, K.K. Ali, Jaffar, Shejeer, and Kasim.

In May this year, the NIA Court in Kochi granted bail to accused Shafeeq after all witnesses turned hostile during the course of the investigation. Many of the conspirators remain absconding to this day.

‘Church and our own people didn’t support us’: TJ Joseph

In an interview with The Times of India in September last year, Joseph refused to accept that punishing the accused will bring justice. He emphasised that religious fundamentalism was at the heart of the problem.

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.”

He pointed out that when a situation like his happens, everyone finds themselves “as ephemeral and vulnerable as cobwebs.” Joseph conceded that the physical pain was nothing in front of what the college management and church did to him.

Screengrab of the news report by The Times of India

He recounted how 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.”

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”.

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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