13 September, 2010
A Kerala catholic diocese and Professor Joseph’s issue (G F Xavier)
The reality behind the question paper issue and the condemnable stand took by the Catholic Church,
The sensational news of the chopping of the hand of Professor Joseph who prepared the controversial question paper is a national issue now. Let me first inform you the happenings.
T. J. Joseph, a professor of Malayalam language at
, Thodupuzha, set a question in the Malayalam semester examination paper for BCom students in March 2010. It had a derogatory remark, if interpreted so, against Prophet Mohammed. A group of unknown assailants severed the hand and the right arm of a university professor accused of defaming Mohammed months ago. The execution took place on 4 July 2010 at Muvattupuzha in the Kottayam district of Kerala. A neighbour rushed Mr.T J Joseph to Newman College where first aid was administered, while the severed hand was collected and packed in ice. Joseph was taken to the Nirmala Hospital Specialists Hospital in Kochi where he underwent an operation that lasted 16 hours. Joseph is yet to fully recover from the attack by fundamentalists who chopped off his right hand. The second blow to him came in the form of suspension by the authorities from the College run by the Kothamangalam diocese of the Catholic Church. The third blow to him was when he was dismissed from service on September 1 on the grounds that he had hurt the religious sentiments of a community. .A pastoral letter condemning the 'irresponsible action' of Prof T J Joseph, for preparing a question paper hurting the religious sentiments of a community, was yesterday read out during the Sunday mass in 120 parish churches under the Kothamangalam Diocese in Ernakulam district. This accounts to be the latest blow to him.
Question paper and its reality
In the examination, question 11 asked students to punctuate a dialogue between a character and God. The dialogue was viewed by some as derogatory. The passage was based on a lecture by politician. filmmaker and famous writer P. T. Kunju Muhammed and included in a book – Thirakathayude Reethisasthram (Methodology of Screenplay), published by Kerala State Institute of Languages. Kunjumuhammed had written about the script that he wrote for his award winning movie “Garshom”. He wrote that the scene in which the protagonist of his film talks to God was inspired by a lunatic in his hometown. So the lunatic would call God and God would respond “what is it, you son of a dog“? (I am unsure that “Son of a dog” interprets it’s Malayalam usage “Naayinte mone” well though). The question that came with the narrative was to supply the punctuation.
Prof T J Joseph’s comment
Mr. T J Joseph gave a media interview from his hospital bed, where he stated that he had used an extract from a university-approved book on the Malayalam language, and that his opponents did not give him an opportunity to explain the situation. He said that the naming of the village madcap as Muhammad had been done to represent the original author, P. T. Kunju Muhammed. Joseph's family made a statement that they forgive the attackers.
Professor Joseph further said “I stand by my statement that there was no malafide intent behind framing that question. I had apologised because the question paper was one of the causes of the problems that cropped up later on. However, I had passed the question paper to the principal first. It was the college which took copies of the same and distributed them to the students,’’
Why Catholic Church took this stand?
Meanwhile, the Kothamangalam Diocese issued a circular justifying and supporting the decision of the management of the Newman college for sacking him. The circular was read out in the diocese's parish churches during Mass on Sunday. That was meant to muster support of the believers for the management's decision in the context of the opposition it has invited from various quarters. The circular, issued by none other than Bishop Mar George Punnakkottil of Kothamangalam, repeated all the points stated by the college management to justify the dismissal of the professor. It said Prof Joseph had included the controversial question in the test paper deliberately (which is not true in fact) and knowing fully well that it could hurt the sentiments of Muslims. The stand of the diocese is totally absurd and irresponsible towards a church going faithful. The Bishop said the aggrieved lecturer can approach the court to redress his grievance and the management would abide by the decision.
Let me remind the Catholic Church that the so called pastoral letters cannot blind the faithful so long. The time is near for introspection as I had already written on my wall (Facebook) earlier. Why can’t the church be realistic rather than political? This present stand by the church is not on the basis of spirituality and reality but on the basis of political stand. There is a nexus of communal political leaders (who eye to form the next government) who are controlled by different religious communities in Kerala and this would lead to the division of people and peace among the public.
Regarding the issue of Professor T J Joseph, we should also think in another angle. Here there is a conflict between the powerful few employers (management) and the employees. Management is trying to play safe in this issue, even if there is a mistake. The question paper was submitted first to the principal and it was cross checked and later it was printed by the College. Then who is responsible if the management is accepting of a derogatory reference in the question paper? Let us not forget when we accused government for the Video CD depicting a bishop enjoying the sheep of a poor boy for the dinner. If the government is responsible for a CD approved by a bureaucrat, then the Diocese of Kothamangalam and the management of new Man’s College are jointly responsible for this rather than accusing Professor alone.
Professor, you are not alone.
Senior priests like Fr Paul Thelekkat, spokesman of the
, had criticized the management for sacking the professor. Talking to newsmen in Thrissur, Education Minister Baby said, "Private college managements have the right to sack teachers under them but there are clearly defined rules and procedures for doing this. In this case, they have violated all rules of the university and the Government," he said. A meeting of the MG University Syndicate had on Thursday unanimously adopted a resolution terming the management's decision a violation of university rules. Teachers’ associations have offered financial assistance to Joseph and plan to organize protests in colleges across Kerala against his dismissal. On Monday, students of the college observed a black day and took out a procession protesting the decision to sack their professor while the faculty stayed off work. The whole nation was offended by the outrage against the professor by radicals, and to beat it, the Christian management of the college has inflicted “ethical homicide” on him, said Justice V R Krishna Iyer. Lending moral support to the professor, the All-Kerala Private College Teachers’ Association has raised Rs 7 lakh towards his medical expenses and is expected to support him should he decide to take legal recourse against the college management. Sr Stella, his own sister, is not happy with the stand taken by the church. The family is 'upset' and 'scared' with the letter being read out in the churches. Syro-Malabar Church
The faithfuls’ mind is not totally represented in the pastoral letter. It is the mind of the particular Diocese and not even of the Catholic Church. It has triggered a debate on justice and mercy in Kerala. Because of this one diocese, the whole Catholic Church is facing the flak from different quarters. I would appeal to stand with the victims and against all forms of terrorist ways (verbal and physical) in any religion.
It is still not too late to pull back from not taking strong action against these so-called religious organizations as well as educational institutions which flout the rule book. It is time for the government to intervene, I feel. Time is up for the government to act not the basis of vote bank politics. The state can in no way be seen compromising with those who consider themselves judge and executioner. If the CPI(M) thinks that appeasing these fanatics (‘Protectors’ of Muslim community and the ‘protagonists’ of the Catholic church) will pay political dividends, it is sadly mistaken. People are educated and we started thinking above all caste, creed, language and race. Inaction would invite the fundamentalists to play a role as moral police.