Two activists of the Popular Front of India (PFI) were arrested on Monday in connection with the attack on a professor at Muvattupuzha in Ernakulam district. Sources said 12 others, most of them with extremist links, were also taken into custody for interrogation.

Ashraf, 37, of Mundeth, Mekalady, and Jaffar, 28, of Eramaloor, Kothamangalam, were remanded to judicial custody by the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court, Muvattupuzha.

The right palm of T.J. Joseph, 53, professor of Malayalam in the Newman College, Thodupuzha, was chopped off by the assailants on Sunday. He, along with his mother and sister, was returning home from church when a gang of six waylaid his car and attacked him with an axe.

Professor Joseph underwent two lengthy micro-vascular surgeries at the Specialists Hospital, Kochi, and the severed palm was ‘reconstructed and re-grafted'. Hospital sources said he was conscious and that his condition was stable. He is recovering in the intensive-care unit.

Professor Joseph has been under suspension following a controversy over disparaging remarks about religious beliefs in an examination question paper he prepared for undergraduate students in the college.

A team led by Muvattupuzha Deputy Superintendent of Police Sabu Mathew is probing the attack. T. Vikram, Superintendent of Police, Ernakulam Rural, who was camping in the area, said: “We have talked to church leaders to convince them that an all-out effort is being made to nab the culprits.”

Meanwhile, the Muslim Aikya Vedi took out a march to the Muvattupuzha police station claiming that its activists did not have any role in the attack. Police presence was intensified at Muvattupuzha and Thodupuzha.

The attack has caused widespread shock and outrage across Kerala. Several organisations, cutting across political and religious divides, have condemned it and called for stern steps to prevent recurrence of such incidents. Many Muslim organisations, including the Indian Union Muslim League, condemned the attack and urged the government to take action against the culprits.

After the controversy over the question paper arose, Prof. Joseph was arrested for allegedly fomenting communal disturbances. In the question paper, he had used a passage about an imaginary dialogue between God and Muhammad, and the students were asked to comment. Certain Muslim organisations, assuming that ‘Muhammad' in the passage was Prophet Muhammad, took offence and staged protest rallies and clamoured for action against the professor. Stones were thrown at the college run by the Christian church.

The college management apologised and, on the government's instruction, Prof. Joseph was placed under suspension for a year. The police registered a case against him. He went into hiding, but after a couple of weeks he was arrested under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code (for causing communal hatred). He was later released on bail.