Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Barbarians on the prowl: Editorial in The New Indian Express

What Kerala witnessed on Sunday when a college lecturer returning from church was waylaid, dragged out of his car and his right palm was chopped off is horrendous, to say the least. The victim, T J Joseph, earned infamy in March last when he was accused of preparing a question paper in which a blasphemous reference was made to Prophet Mohammed. Nobody in his senses would approve of any action that wounds the religious feelings of any section of people. When he was promptly arrested on several criminal charges, everybody considered it as just desserts for the ‘learned man’. On its part, the management of Newman College, Thodupuzha, suspended him from service. Thus, by no stretch of the imagination could it be concluded that he had gone scot-free.
The question paper he prepared was based on the writing of a Muslim littérateur about the imaginary dialogue a mad man had with the Almighty. Joseph is alleged to have interpolated the passage with a mischievous reference to the Prophet. Whether he personally did it or it was done by someone else at the printing stage is what the court would go into before taking an appropriate decision in the case. Under the Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that is still followed in the country, Joseph is entitled to the benefit of the doubt till the prosecution is able to prove conclusively the serious charges against him. Thus, in the eyes of the law, he is an innocent person, entitled to protection by the state. Unfortunately, the state failed in its duty as it preferred to be an onlooker in this case.
The police was told that unidentified persons were threatening Joseph ever since he was released on bail. Given the kind of protest the question paper had evoked and the communal nature of the issue, the government should have provided him security. But by failing to do so, it made the task of the religious ‘warriors’ easier. When Islamists threatened Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, he was given protection, not because the British government approved of his writing but because it did not want anyone to take the law into his own hands. Under the rule of law, there are laws to deal with offenders like Joseph. That job cannot be delegated to the so-called custodians of Islam who, by cutting off his palm, have shown that they have only utter contempt for the rule of law.

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