A gang of anti-social elements chopped off the right hand of T.J. Joseph, Professor and Head of Department of Malayalam at Newman College, Thodupuzha, near his house at Muvattupuzha on Sunday morning.

Mr. Joseph, who has been under suspension following a controversy over disparaging remarks about religious beliefs in an examination question paper he had prepared for undergraduate students, was arrested in April by the police and let out on bail.

Mr. Joseph, 53, was attacked by a gang of six when he returned from church by car at 8.15 a.m. along with his mother and sister. The gang pulled him out of the car and chopped off his hand a little below the wrist with an axe and threw away the severed hand in a nearby plot of land, police sources said. He was also stabbed on the arm and leg. The gang arrived in a van and fled the scene after the assault. In order to create fear, they burst crackers before and after the assault. Mr. Joseph's wife who rushed out of the house hearing the commotion was chased away by the gang.

Mr. Joseph's neighbours rushed him, along with the severed hand, to a plastic surgery hospital in Kochi, some 50 km away.

The Muvattupuzha police late in the afternoon took two youths into custody and found the van claimed to have been used by the gang. The registration number of the van was fake. The van reportedly had blood stains and broken pieces of the windscreen of the Professor's car.

In March this year, the question paper episode at Newman College at Thodupuzha in Idukki district had created a furore.

The college management apologised and, on government instruction, Mr. Joseph was suspended from his job. The police registered a case against him for allegedly causing communal disturbances under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code. Mr. Joseph went into hiding, but after a couple of weeks, he was arrested.

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