It has been 10 years since a question on an exam paper changed his entire life. A former Malayalam professor at Newmans College in Thodupuzha, TJ Joseph’s right hand was severed at the palm by a few activists of the Popular Front of India (PFI), a radical Muslim group, for a question that he gave his students during an internal examination at the college. He was accused of making inflammatory remarks on Prophet Mohammed in the question. Eventually, he lost his job, his wife killed herself and his family faced ostracisation. All of which he has now summed up in the 300 pages of his autobiography, due to be released in two months.
Joseph’s autobiography, which is yet to be titled, is being published by DC Books. In a two-part series, Joseph narrates the tragedy that changed his personal life and the years of loneliness he experienced following the harrowing incident on July 4, 2010. He was returning home along with his family after attending Sunday mass when he was attacked and his right hand was severed.
Losing his right hand did not shake his determination to write the book. He managed to use his left hand to complete his autobiography.
“In the first part of the book, I narrate my motive behind preparing the question paper. I prepared it with a positive motive. But two days later, that changed my entire life,” he tells TNM.
Following the incident, TJ Joseph and his family were isolated by his church in his hometown, Muvattupuzha. “Losing my job hurt me and my family more than losing my hand. I expected the support and protection from the college and church authorities over the issue but they isolated me,” he writes in his autobiography.
The book also describes how the college officials pinned all charges on him after the question paper created controversy. “I had prepared the draft of the question paper and submitted it to the Principal of the college. He approved the question paper and then distributed it to the students. So, I would have been only one of the accused in the case. But when the issue stirred controversy, they put all charges on me and washed their hands off of this matter,” Joseph says.
When setting the Malayalam question paper, Joseph had extracted a passage from a short story by CPI(M) leader PT Kunju Mohammed, which spoke about a nameless villager who questions god. Joseph called the nameless person Mohammed in a test on punctuation. It soon kicked up a controversy after a newspaper, affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami, carried the news with prominence. The character Mohammed was interpreted as a reference to Prophet Mohammed, while Joseph maintained that he named it after the author, PT Kunju Mohammed, himself.
After widespread protests, he was booked for causing communal hatred. Although he went absconding, he was eventually arrested and let off on bail in April 2010. Joseph lost his job then. On March 20, 2014, his wife, 49-year-old Salomi, killed herself. Later, a court acquitted Joseph of all charges against him when the Kerala police filed an FIR against 37 people who had been accused of attacking Joseph.
“My family life was peaceful and smooth until the internal question paper issue came up. The second part of the biography deals with my life and views until the tragedy struck. When my wife ended her life, it was another shocking incident in my life. She had suffered a lot for me,” says Joseph.
The 61-year-old retired professor has completed his autobiography, which will be published in two months. The first edition of the book will be published in Malayalam, He is also planning to release an English version, too.
A few weeks ago, DC books had published the autobiography of Sister Lucy Kalappura which had become extremely controversial.
"We are planning to release the autobiography soon. The exact date isn't confirmed yet. But it should be sometime in January." Ravi Dee Cee, MD of DC Books confirmed to TNM.