It’s been 12 years and two months since Kerala-based professor TJ Joseph’s hand was chopped off by members of the radical Islamist group Popular Front of India (PFI) for allegedly blaspheming Prophet Muhammad and the Quran in a question paper he had set.
Living a simple life at his home in Muvattupuzha, Joseph keeps himself busy reading literary works and writing. He has published four books since his attack in 2010 and all of them were written using his left hand, which he trained himself to, after his right hand was chopped off.
Joseph’s calm exterior is a stark contrast to the tumultuous life he has led since the attack. He lost his job, his wife ended her life, unable to bear the pressure of constant danger that her family faced, and most importantly, he still awaits the day the police arrest the “real culprits” behind his attack.
“Those who were booked were lower-rung PFI members, the ones who attacked me. I want to know why are the main people, the top rung of the PFI who ordered the attack on me, the masterminds, walking around scot-free?” Joseph questioned when News18 spoke to him about the ongoing raids on PFI leaders and offices across the country.
On the raids, Joseph felt that it was high time that the outfit was banned and the members locked behind bars.
“Their programmes, actions, and involvement in various terror activities indicate they are a threat to national security. They have been involved in several attacks over the years and in the interest of national security, it is important to eliminate this terror outfit PFI. Such organisations are a danger to our country and the government should take the strictest action to ensure they are completely decimated,” he told News18.
While he feels that recounting the horrific day when he was attacked has shattered his life, he would like to keep it as an incident of the past. When asked whether he feels anger each time the name of PFI is linked to an attack or a reference to his attack is made, Joseph says he has made peace with himself.
“I want the main people behind the PFI, the criminal minds to be arrested and PFI as an organisation to be banned. What is the use of nurturing hate after my attack? My moral values have given me the strength to put the horrific incident behind me and not get angry or hate my attackers. But the bigger picture is to ensure the terror outfit PFI is finished from our country,” he said.
The PFI faced a multi-agency, multi-state crackdown on Thursday, in which over 100 of its leaders were arrested.
The National Investigation Agency in a press statement said, “A large number of criminal cases have been registered by different states over the last few years against the PFI and its leaders and members for their involvement in many violent acts. Criminal violent acts carried out by PFI such as chopping off the hand of a college professor, cold blooded killings of persons associated with organisations espousing the other faiths, collection of explosives to target prominent people and places, support to Islamic State and destruction of public property have had a demonstrative effect of striking terror in the minds of the citizens.”
The Malayalam professor’s autobiography, ‘Attupokatha Ormakal’ (Unforgettable Memories), recently won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi award. The book has also been translated into English titled ‘A Thousand Cuts: An Innocent Question And Deadly Answers’.
More than a decade after the chilling attack on him, the professor feels that the country is seeing more divisiveness and religious fanaticism which is also reflected in the various debates people engage in.
In his book, Joseph bares his heart about how he had to endure false allegations, personal and economic losses, and how a section of society distanced themselves from him, at a time when he needed emotional support. He said that those who attacked him were blinded by their religious beliefs and fanaticism, but those who left him high and dry after the attack are the ones who hurt him most.
The chilling story of Joseph’s attack began in March 2010. The professor worked as a faculty member at the Newman College, Thodupuzha in Kerala‘s Idukki district.
One of the questions set by him in a question paper for the second-year Malayalam B Com students was seen as inflammatory. The professor had extracted a paragraph from the book ‘Thirakathayude Reethisasthram‘, written by Malayalam director PT Kunju Muhammed, and wanted to test the students on punctuation. The short story he selected revolved around a mentally unstable schizophrenic nameless villager whom Joseph gave the name ‘Mohammed’.
A major controversy erupted after a local Malayalam newspaper affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami headlined it. As the controversy continued to rage, several Islamic outfits including the radical PFI staged a series of agitations, transforming the quiet peaceful towns of Muvattupuzha and Thodupuzha into a cauldron of communal tension.
The professor fled from his home as he was now being hunted down by the police as a person who ignited communal tension in the area. Having been on the run for weeks, he was arrested and spent ten days in jail until he was released on bail.
Once he was back home, he was told by the college authorities that he had been terminated and struggled to find a job and make ends meet.
On the fateful day of July 4, 2010, as the professor was driving home from church, six attackers armed with an axe forcibly stopped his car and chopped his right hand below the wrist. They later threw the severed hand on a nearby piece of land. The assailants also stabbed Joseph in the leg and arm and left him to bleed on the road before fleeing from the scene.
The attack was the beginning of the tragedies that were to follow in Joseph’s life.
“I had lost my job. There were some good Samaritans and families who helped me with finances for my medical treatment and daily food supplies. We somehow survived for three to four years. When my case came in front of the court after the police submitted a report to charge me, the court cleared my name and said that I could not be held guilty for using the name of Mohammed which was not done intentionally to hurt religious sentiments,” he said.
Joseph recalled the hardships that his family went through and his distraught wife Salomi who had gone into depression due to the aftermath of the incident ended her life on March 19, 2014.