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Kerala professor attack: Principal speaks out

Last updated on: August 3, 2010 18:42 IST

Kerala professor attack: Principal speaks out


The horrific attack on Professor T J Joseph, whose right palm was chopped off, allegedly by members of the Popular Front of India, is a pointer to spreading Islamic extremism in Kerala.

A Ganesh Nadar travels to the state to find out more about the shocking incident. The first of his despatches:

The idyllic surroundings of Newman College in Thodupuzha, central Kerala, present an outward picture of calm and normalcy. There is greenery everywhere. Like colleges everywhere, this one too buzzes with activity. Only the presence of a group of policemen at the gate is indication of the turmoil the college underwent recently.

A professor from this college, T J Joseph, was attacked on July 4 and his hand cut off by Islamic extremists while he was returning home from Sunday mass along with his mother and sister. The assailants were outraged by a question paper he had set, which they felt denigrated Islam.

The college, established in 1964, is managed by the Syrian Catholic diocese of Kothamangalam, and has 1,300 students studying arts, science and commerce. The college principal, Dr T M Joseph, recalls the events leading to the attack:

"Professor Joseph headed the Malayalam department and was teaching undergraduate students. He has been working here for two years. Before that, he had been working in our sister institution, Nirmala College, in Muvattupuzha for 20 years, where he had also been teaching postgraduate students."

"Professor Joseph was a good person and had a healthy relationship with his colleagues. Apart from looking after the Malayalam department, he was also in charge of 'value education' in the college."

"Coming back to what led to the attack, there was an internal exam for 32 first year BCom students. One question worth four marks listed a fictional conversation, an extract from a text originally written by P T Kunji Mohammed. In the original the conversation is between a lunatic and god. Professor Joseph changed this around (which led to protests and finally the attack on him)."

"The exam took place on March 23. Two days later, I got a phone call from a man saying, 'I am a Muslim, how can you ask such a question?' As I was not aware of anything at that time, he said he would come to the college the next day."

"I then inquired with the Malayalam department. Meanwhile, I started getting calls from the police and the media. On March 26, Deputy Superintendent of Police K G Simon informed me that the college had been cordoned off as a huge protest was being planned."

"This college is affiliated to Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam. The university too started getting queries from the government and we submitted a report to the university on the issue."

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Image: Newman College in Thodupuzha, Kerala
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar

Muslims donated blood for the professor

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"At 9.30 am, I heard that shops were being forced to close in Thodapuzha town. Clashes were reported and curfew was clamped.

"At 10.30 am, Professor Joseph was suspended by the management. I offered an unconditional apology through the media as principal of the college."

"That afternoon, university exams were going on. Some people came in with the police and asked us to stop the exams. I said I could not do it as it was a university-run exam. Then the college got in touch with the vice-chancellor who agreed to call off the exam. The students were allowed to go home."

"In the evening there was an all-party meeting in the town. A peace procession was taken out."

"The police had filed a case against Professor Joseph and he was arrested on April 1 and later released on bail. His bail was conditional. One of the conditions was that he should not enter Thodupuzha."

"The college management has appointed a commission to inquire into the incident and submit a report for further action."

"Three months passed off peacefully. Then, on July 4, Professor Joseph was tragically attacked," the principal added.

The bursar Father Manuel Pichalakkatt, a senior administrator of the college who was Professor Joseph's student between 1993 and 1995. When asked why the paper was printed without being checked, he said, "He is the head of the Malayalam department. As it was an internal test paper, nobody checked."

"One of the students had written in his answer paper: 'It is very difficult and insulting to my religion so I am changing it to a conversation between an elder and younger brother'."

The attack on Professor Joseph is not without irony. He was attacked by a group of Muslims for insulting their faith. And when he was in hospital, another group of Muslims came forward to donate blood for him.

Image: The principal, Dr T M Joseph
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar
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