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Kerala: Special NIA court convicts six PFI members for chopping the hand of Professor TJ Joseph in 2010

The alleged PFI members were found guilty of attempted murder, conspiracy, and various other offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Additionally, some of the accused were also found guilty under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

On the 12th of July, a Special National Investigation Agency (NIA) Court found six accused guilty in the 2010 Professor TJ Joseph’s hand-chopping case. All of the convicted accused are alleged members of the now-banned Islamist outfit Popular Front of India (PFI). 

Special NIA court judge Anil K Bhaskar pronounced the 5 accused guilty in the second phase of the trial in the case. The alleged PFI members were found guilty of attempted murder, conspiracy, and various other offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Additionally, some of the accused were also found guilty under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). 

However, the court also acquitted five other accused in the case. The Special NIA court will now pronounce the sentences against the convicts tomorrow at around 3 PM.

The need for a second phase of the trial

Earlier, during the first phase, 31 accused were facing trial before the court. Later, in April 2015, 10 out of them were convicted for offences under the UAPA as well as the Explosive Substances Act, and the IPC. Three other accused were found guilty of harbouring the offenders. The remaining 18 accused were acquitted by the court. 

The 11 accused put on the second phase of the trial are those who had escaped after the first stage of the trial was over. However, they were later detained by the police. 

The NIA court found the accused Nassar, Sajil, Najeeb, Noushad, Kunju, and Ayoob guilty. The remaining six accused namely Shafeeq, Azeez, Rafi, Subair, and Mansoor were acquitted. 

However, Ashamannur Sawad, the main accused in the case is still absconding. As per the NIA Chargesheet, he was the one who chopped off Professor Joseph’s hand. 

Initially, the Kerala Police was investigating the case but it was later taken over by the NIA on the 9th of March, 2011. 

The case

In March 2010, one Malayalam Professor TJ Joseph 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 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. 

However, Islamists were quick to label this as ‘blasphemy’ and interpreted the question as a conversation between Prophet Muhammad and God.

Later, the matter escalated further when the Jamaat-e-Islami-run newspaper, Madhyamam, reported about it. Subsequently, 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 Professor TJ Joseph.

The Kerala Police lodged an FIR against Professor Joseph for stirring communal hatred under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Police arrested him when he allegedly tried to evade law enforcement authorities, however, he soon was released on bail. 

To make matters worse, Newman College, which is a Christian minority institute affiliated with Mahatma Gandhi University, fired Professor Joseph. 

On the fateful day of 4th of July, 2010, Joseph, 53 years old back then, was returning home from church in his car at about 8 AM. He was accompanied by his sister and mother. Within no time, a gang of 6 Islamists laid siege to 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.

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.

Professor Joseph claimed religious fundamentalism was at the heart of the problem

Professor Joseph was dismissed from the service over alleged blasphemy. After this his financial condition deteriorated and his family was abandoned by everyone. The church excommunicated his family. Friends and family members stopped visiting his house out of the church’s fear. 

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.

In an interview with The Times of India in September 2021, Joseph refused to accept that punishing the accused will bring justice. He emphasised that religious fundamentalism was at the heart of the problem.

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.” 

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

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