Twelve years ago, Professor T.J. Joseph’s life was marred by a question that pushed him to the brink of death. Now, the memoirs from the bloody phase of his life have won him the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, 2021.
Joseph, a former lecturer in Malayalam literature at Newman College, Thodupuzha, wrote his award-winning autobiography, attupokatha ormakali, using your left hand. His right hand was amputated in 2010 by activists of the Popular Front of India (PFI) due to an alleged inane tone of one of the questions asked by him in a class test.
attupokatha ormakaliWhich translates as ‘The Memoirs That Refusing to Be Sewarded’ is a chilling 300-page account of a common man’s life being ruined by religious extremism on false allegations of blasphemy.
Speaking to News18, Joseph shared how difficult it was to replicate on paper the horrors he had gone through. “The Academy Award is a prestigious award for any writer. When we write we are writers. But some experiences were hard to re-live. Although it was my experience, it was difficult to put it in writing,” the former professor said from Ireland, where he is currently on holiday with his daughter and her family.
The physical task of writing a manuscript was also not easy. “It was difficult for me to write with my left hand. However, I sent the manuscript for publication as I was satisfied with the work,” he said.
The book’s genesis lies in an incident that occurred in March 2010 and reached a shocking climax four months later that shook the nation. Joseph had recently set question paper for Malayalam Literature internal examination for B.Com 2nd year students of Thodupuzha New Man College.
The question considered objectionable was based on a conversation between an unknown fictional character and a god from the book. thirakthayude ritishastram (Script Method) by PT Kunju Muhammad, a film producer and former MLA supported by CPM. There was a minor change in the question. When Joseph formulated the question, he named the character ‘Mohammed’, citing the name of the author. A change she didn’t think twice about caused a violent change in the lives of Joseph and his family.
One of the students objected to the change. There was some uproar over this but soon the matter was settled. It returned with a vengeance when vested interests used it to incite anger against Joseph within the Muslim community. The conspirators waited for an opportunity and when one presented itself four months later, they attacked Joseph.
The professor was returning from a church with his mother and sister after Sunday Mass in Ernakulam district on July 4 when their car was attacked by a group of eight men armed with swords and knives. The attackers broke the windscreen and dragged Joseph out of the car. They cut off his right hand and stuck a spear in his left thigh.
When his sister tried to save him, the assailants attacked him and his mother. The group also detonated bombs before leaving and told the bloodied Joseph that he was being punished for “blasphemy” in the question paper.
Joseph had miraculously escaped death but life was never the same. The book is a description of how those few months left him emotionally distorted as well. Joseph lost his job after losing his hand. He was terminated from his teaching position at the college in September 2010 and rejected by the church which manages the institution. Furthermore, in another Sunday Mass eight weeks after the incident, a circular from the Syro Malabar Church to which he belonged, blamed him for the entire episode.
Joseph was also excommunicated from the society after an all-party meeting called by the District Collector recommended action against him. Then state education minister MA Baby termed his question on the exam as “an act of foolishness”. Joseph and his son were also allegedly attacked and harassed by the Kerala Police.
The former professor set out to document his exam in 2011. The publisher offered someone to help Joseph write the manuscript. But the would-be writer had decided that the story was for him to tell and write.
Other life-changing events kept him from finishing the book. In 2014, facing financial and social isolation, Joseph’s wife, Salomi Joseph, committed suicide at the age of 48.
The former professor was able to complete the manuscript in mid-2018. His book has been translated into English by Nandakumar and is titled A Thousand Cuts: An Innocent Question and a Deadly Answer,
The case was investigated by the NIA and in 2015 a special court convicted 13 people for their allegiance to the PFI.
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