As professor T.J. Joseph of Newman College, Thodupuzha in south Kerala, recovers in hospital after a 15-hour surgery to reattach his right hand—hacked off by alleged Popular Front of India (PFI) assailants—questions are being asked over how a Taliban-model, cold-blooded attack could take place in public and in broad daylight in what is one of India’s supposedly better policed states.
The police have arrested two PFI activists and the search is on for the other assailants. The attack, apparently, was in retaliation for a blasphemous question set by Joseph in the Malayalam semester examination paper for BCom students. Joseph, who education minister M.A. Baby later called a “fool”, set the question based on a short story by CPI(M) leader P.T. Kunju Mohammed about a village madcap who questions god. The students were asked to punctuate a passage from the story. But the nameless mad man in the story was referred to as Mohammed by Joseph while setting the paper. That was enough for the local edition of the Jamaat-e-Islami’s newspaper to carry a prominent report, sparking off the controversy. Soon, the Campus Front, the PFI’s student wing, launched an agitation. That was in March.
But why did Joseph set such a question? Wasn’t he aware that it would hurt religious sentiments? Some say it was innocuously done. Others point out that the professor, who is close to the CPI(M), did not get on well with the college authorities and set the question to create trouble for the management. There is still no clarity on Joseph’s intentions.
His family, it seems, always anticipated trouble and had even filed police complaints citing a threat to Joseph’s life. A confused police force had also dithered in arresting suspects even after a report that they had gone to the professor’s residence and done a recce days before the attack. Sources say even the state intelligence had warned the police that the situation was communally sensitive. Had the police acted, perhaps the attack could have been prevented.
But the police ignored the warnings. Says former DGP K.J. Joseph, “It’s unthinkable that an incident like this should happen in Kerala, that too in broad daylight, and three months after the initial provocation. It’s because the assailants believed they could get away with it. The blame rests squarely on the police for allowing such an impression to build up.”
In the past few years, there have been many attempts by fringe Muslim outfits to lead the community away from their mainstream party, the Muslim League. The SDPI is the latest avatar of this, ready to play extremist politics in a state where Muslims make up a quarter of the population. Renowned litterateur M.N. Karasseri, himself a retired professor and someone who keeps tabs on Muslim politics, says, “The Muslim youth today are looking for idealism and adventure. They are being misguided by the proponents of Maududism that espouses a do-or-die battle for ensuring hukumathe ilahi (the rule of Allah). The SDPI, Jamaat and several other outfits subscribe to this philosophy. If the rest of society does not realise the inherent danger, more Taliban-model reprisals will follow.”
The primitive manner in which a Kerala professor’s hand was hacked because of some perceived blasphemy is outrageous (Wrong Question, Jul 19). The response of the Kerala education minister calling Joseph a fool was equally disgraceful. Tejinder, St Louis, US
The same people who are now talking of the Kerala professor’s ‘rights’ were talking differently when a couple of years ago, churches and members of the Christian community in Karnataka were attacked for derogatory references to Hindu gods. Abusing Islam and Muslims seems to have become the in thing these days. Sameer, Bangalore
It’s offending to see the Outlook article questioning the professor’s intentions. He had every right to set the content of his course without having to worry about a bloodthirsty fringe of religious fascists. The crime, of course, is a symptom of a dangerous rot in Kerala society, compounded by incompetent law enforcement. Varun Garde, Bangalore
This shows the deplorable depths to which intolerance has plunged in Kerala. K.S. Thampi, Chennai
The 48-year-old wife of a college professor, whose right hand was chopped off by activists of the Popular Front of India (PFI), was found dead in her house Wednesday, police said.
Shalomi Joseph was found hanging in the bathroom around 3 p.m. She was rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Police have begun a probe into the death.
The woman was a key witness to the crime involving her husband. The trial in the case is on.
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