As someone who attempted a doctoral research on ‘black humour in stories by John Abraham, M. Mukundan and Paul Zacharia’, T.J. Joseph, former associate professor at Newman College whose right palm was chopped off by religious fundamentalists, can easily see through the absurdity of the situation he has landed in.
He is now fighting battles with different people at the same time. While the trial on the basis of the National Investigation Authority (NIA) probe into the hand-chopping case is underway, he has a case against him for causing communal unrest. He is also fighting a case against his termination from the college.
Life changed forever for this former head of the Malayalam Department at Newman College, Thodupuzha, on March 23, 2010, when he prepared a question paper for an internal examination. For setting the question for punctuation, Prof. Joseph took a passage from an essay by filmmaker P.T. Kunjumohammed. The passage was on how the filmmaker got inspired from a lunatic who used to converse with God.
But in the process, he named the character Mohammed, which many firmly believe was a mistake and set off the fire. “You check any dictionary, it will say that Mohammed is just a Muslim name and it need not allude to the Prophet,” he said. But that argument had few takers.
Protesters took to the road. The college management suspended Prof. Joseph. Police registered a case. Everything happened in two days. After some days in hiding, Prof. Joseph surrendered before the police and came out on bail the next week. Since then, strangers started calling at his home frequently.
On May 6, a group of men came to his home and asked for Prof. Joseph. He had gone out then. They said they wanted him to write for a souvenir. Another group came on May 17, but Prof. Joseph had guests, so they said they had come for some fund raising. When they came the third time on May 28, the family was packing bags for a pilgrimage and Prof. Joseph had gone to the neighbour’s place to check whether he could park his car there. This time, the visitors said they were from a private bank.
“After the third failed attempt, they might have decided to do it outside.” The group intercepted Prof. Joseph and his sister on their way back from church on July 4, and chopped off his right palm.
“I have forgiven those who attacked me as they were under instructions of someone else. I am sure none of them would have read what I had written in the question paper. Let the law take its course in that case. But I am pained with the response of the college management and the State registering a case against me.”
The State Human Rights Commission found allegations of the police harassing his son Mithun, when Prof. Joseph was in hiding, to be true and recommended fine and departmental action. “The appeal against this verdict is also pending.”
The college management suspended Prof. Joseph when the controversy broke out and terminated his service in September that year after an in-house inquiry. Prof. Joseph’s appeal against this is pending before the Appellate Tribunal. Repeated adjournments worry this teacher who is about to retire from the service in March next year.
Extensive physiotherapy sessions have partly restored the mobility of his hands. But his movements continue to be restricted, figuratively. Prof. Joseph still has a rifle sentry, with two policemen posted round the clock at his home. Visitors should enter their details in the log book before meeting him. The policemen follow him wherever he goes. “These policemen have become a part of my life now,” he said