The sacking of Prof T J Joseph disturbed me just as it had all right thinking people of the state. I was itching to write about it but my usual hesitation to criticise the church held me back till now. Now i can no longer rein in my feelings of extreme distress.
I am a college lecturer myself, and so i understand how things happen in a college, how the question papers are set.
Paper setting is not an easy job. Even without all the political correctness we have to worry about, it is a difficult job. A lot of time, thought and planning goes into it. The questions have to cover the entire portions allotted, it has to focus on those portion that were not covered in earlier exams, the portion covered in the earlier exams cannot be ignored though. Besides all this the paper has to be impeccable, factually and language wise. A teacher spends a very long time taking care of all these, and is very careful. But despite all the efforts, errors creep in. After all, it is human to err and teachers are human. A teacher is not a perfect human being, a veritable storehouse of knowledge, who never ever makes a mistake in life or in the class room. She is one who strives to be that, gets half way through in that direction and is always aware that there is a long way to go still.
But a teacher is imperatively a person who knows how to deal with the knowledge at her disposal in order to impart it as education to the students. Hours of preparation goes behind every lecture.
Now coming to Prof TJ Joseph, we must admit it was foolish on his part to use the word Mohammed in that particular context. But i am absolutely sure that he did not mean the Prophet. Why on earth should he take the trouble to offend the sensibilities of a community? He should know fully well what the consequences would be. The mistake he made was that when he chose the passage, he did not factor in the truth that there are certain elements in the community who are fanatical and who suffer from an intense sense of persecution mania. These people feel that all the world is out to insult Islam which is simply not true.
The professor was being naive. He thought , and rightfully so, that Mohammed is just a name, and that simple explanation was enough for him to use that name in that unfortunate passage he picked up from the books prescribed for reading in the syllabus. If he had used the name Joseph or Matthew or Paul or Alphonse(all Christian saints), or even Emmanuel(which is Christ’s name), this problem would not have snowballed into such a huge issue. In fact it would not have been an issue at all. No one would have noticed it, cos after all what’s in a name? That must have been his logic.
Believe me, sometimes a teacher’s logic, clouded by academic considerations alone, falls short of politically correctness. It does happen. I know it. Even if someone points this out, we tend to stick mulishly to our view. At that point of time, the mind thinks that it is ridiculous that a perfectly innocent statement should be so wrongly interpreted. In our foolishness, we think such ridiculous interpretations should not happen. This must have been how the professor’s mind worked. “If i’m asked, i can always say i didn’t mean the The Prophet”.
Needless to say, the easiest thing would have been to change the name. But the poor man did not think it important enough.
It is true that the question papers are submitted to the office and the Principal is the official approver of it. But it is simply not possible for the Principal to go through them. Nevertheless, when something like this happened, he should have owned up the responsibility and apolgised to the community for an unintentional offence, instead of washing his hands of the poor teacher and sacking him. What loyalty can the institution expect hereafter from its teachers again?
It is very obvious that the enquiry by the management was not a fair one. The simple logic is why should a teacher with an impeccable record of 20 odd years, who led a totally innocuous and noncontroversial life to date, to whom his job was all important indulge in the dangerous act of antagonising a community and thereby jeopardise his job, his safety and that of his family? He would NEVER do it. And the management knows it.
The management has come up with some atrocious statements:
The DTP operator had pointed it out to the teacher about the use of the forbidden name. Well, since when is a DTP operator to decide what a teacher should do? Of course, in this case the DTP operator was more worldly wise, but education is a degree different from worldly wisdom, and teachers, the dispensers of education sometimes tend to be idealistic and short on worldly wisdom. Society should be a little indulgent towards teachers. It would have been nice if it departed from its usual practice of treating this category of people as punching bags.
Secondly, the management has stated that it is willing to take back the professor if the Muslim community forgives him!!!! What does it mean by Muslim community? Isn’t the group of muslims who were among the first to donate blood to the victim of this terrorist act part of that Muslim community whose pardon the management is seeking? Let the management define term ‘muslim community’.
The Muslims do not need forgiven the Professor. Why should they, when they have not taken offence or have any grudge towards him? The management is doing a disservice to the community by identifying these lumpen, fanatic group as the representative face of the Muslim community which is as sane and secular as any other community in the state.
This appeasing attitude is most shameful. I would have expected the management to live and act by the principles they swear by – Christ’s principles. I wish the management of Newman college would go back to the Bible and find out how Jesus Christ the founder of Christianity and the Lord of love and forgiveness and compassion would have reacted in this situation.
The management has no mind of its own? It does not have its own sense of right and wrong? No discerning power? Does it need to take lessons on love and forgiveness and compassion from an external agency? Is this management which runs an educational institution so starved of values and a sense of fair play – and courage?
What a shame! What a terrible shame!