news Saturday, May 02, 2015 - 05:30
  When a National Investigative Agency court in Kochi convicted 13 Popular Front of India (PFI) workers, for chopping off professor TJJoseph’s hand in a 2010 Taliban-style, cold-blooded attack in Kerala, most headlines screamed ‘Justice for the professor.’ Strictly in a legal sense, the NIA was swift in submitting its charge sheet, the trial went on without glitches and many who were directly involved in the attack have been convicted. (The police have not yet nabbed five of the accused in the case). While looking through this constricted prism, the justice delivery system in this case was smooth, but in a larger context, Joseph’s case highlights many things that are inherently wrong with society and systems. The brutal attack on the professor was the first signal that the growth, reach and radicalization of a group like Popular Front of India had been underestimated to a large extent. Though the PFI’s existence in the state can be traced back to early 90s, it was only in 2010 as visuals of a bloodied Joseph filled TV screens that the message sunk in that the group was not scared of indulging in violence, even in broad daylight. A lecturer at Newmans College in Thodupuzha, Idukki district, Joseph had selected a passage to test students on punctuation from a short story by CPI(M) leader P.T. Kunju Mohammed. In the story, a nameless village madcap questions god. When setting the question, Joseph had named the madcap Mohammed, which sparked a controversy when a newspaper affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami carried the news prominently. The PFI’s attack on Joseph was preceded by reports in vernacular media that thrashed the question paper. What could have been forgotten as an innocuous mistake was made out to be a big deal. The hype around the controversial question ultimately ended with Joseph and his family paying a very heavy price. It however did not end with Joseph losing his hand. Two months after the incident, the Catholic Church run Newman’s college terminated him from service. Last week, when a priest was accused of molesting a minor, the Catholic Church announced that it was setting up three enquiry teams. But in Joseph’s case, it took them no time in distancing themselves from the controversy, leaving him to fend for himself. Then there was a section of the media, political parties and even general public that watched as spectators worried of voicing their support for Joseph, lest they become targeted by the same groups. There were no candle light vigils calling for justice. The then education minister MA Baby termed the college action excessive and a result of having been “indirectly intimidated by the atmosphere created by a group of misguided young terrorists". There were some Muslim leaders too who came out in Joseph’s support. But in spite of the political noises, there was not much help from government departments to ensure that Joseph was reinstated. This inaction was despite the university reversing his termination and a magistrate court acquitting him in a case of hurting religious sentiments. Poverty-stricken, Joseph’s wife committed suicide, making the church repent and give back his job, just two days before retirement. No one dared to stand strongly against a powerful fundamental group. As injustice after injustice was meted out to Joseph and his family, there is need for a collective introspection on whether at every stage we have failed him.