Indian Church spokesman appeals for peace after attack on Catholic professor

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Prof. T.J. Joseph's alleged attackers are taken away by police.

Christian leaders of India have responded to the attack on a Catholic professor by alleged Islamic militants who severed his hand. One commentator saw the attack as part of a growing effort to sow “the seeds of terrorism,” while a spokesman for the Indian bishops called for religious harmony and “social amity.”

On Sunday Prof. T.J. Joseph of Newman College in the state of Kerala was returning home from Mass with his mother and sister, a vowed religious sister. Assailants attacked him with an axe and swords, chopping off his right hand.

The professor of Malayam studies first became the subject of controversy in March when he was accused of preparing an exam paper which allegedly had insulting references to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Fr. Babu Joseph Karakombil, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), spoke about the case in a Tuesday e-mail to EWTN News.

He said that he had “condemned” the attack as the CBCI spokesman, though no formal statement was issued.

“Both the CBCI and the Kerala Bishops Council asked for nabbing the culprits behind the brutal attack on the professor and giv(ing) the most exemplary penalty to them,” he continued. “At the same time we have also asked all to maintain communal harmony in Kerala (which is) known for its long tradition of such socio-religious harmony.”

“We do not at all accept much less endorse acts of terror in any form, particularly in the name of religion,” he stated. “The Christian community in India has never resorted to any form of violence or acts of terror, despite the fact that it has been intimidated and even targeted repeatedly by extremist elements in the country. We have carried on with our works of charity in the midst of all this.”

According to Fr. Karakombil, Prof. Joseph had formulated several questions “with apparent reference to Prophet Muhammad” for an internal examination at the Catholic college.

“Such reference to Prophet Muhammad was objected to by certain Islamic organizations and the management of the institutions suspended him subsequently with an apology to the Muslim community,” he reported.

“The matter unfortunately did not end there, as some Islamic organizations continued with their negative propaganda against the professor.”

He added that there is another controversy concerning the use of veils by Muslim girl students in some of the Christian schools in Kerala, where officials insist on having uniforms for all children “without any exception to Muslim students.”

Fr. Karakombil told EWTN News that the Christian religious leaders of Kerala have taken steps to resolve the outstanding issues between Christians and Muslims and to create “an atmosphere of social amity.”

Sajan K. George, president of the Bangalore-based Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), also commented on the attack, calling it a “barbaric act” and demanding that the attackers be brought to justice.

“GCIC hopes that the authorities do not wash down the complaint from records because of the nexus between police and the Islamic militants," George said in a statement.

The GCIC claims that Kerala is witnessing a growth of Islamic extremism. George charged that militants intend to provoke peaceful Christian communities and have “unlimited resources” in aid from outside the country, as part of “their all time plan of sowing seeds of terrorism in the Indian soil.”

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