Salomi is often on Professor T J Joseph’s mind these days. It’s been over a year since his wife killed herself, broken and depressed. Would the conviction of 13 of his assaulters for chopping his hand been the salve she needed, Joseph wonders.
A lot has changed since the day Salomi came back from a routine consultation with a psychiatrist and, minutes later, was found hanging from a towel rod in the bathroom. A week later, the Catholic Diocese of Kothamangalam in Ernakulam district in Kerala relented to allow Joseph to join duty before his retirement, something the two of them had been fighting for; their children Amy and Mithun have graduated; and on May 8, came the judgment convicting the 13.
What hurts Joseph the most is that Salomi lost hope after ensuring he kept up his through the darkest times. After he was attacked in July 2010 — for allegedly insulting the Prophet in a question paper — and left bedridden for several months, relearning how to do basic things with one hand, Salomi nursed him. “She also shouldered the responsibility of running the home.”
The family of five, including Joseph’s mother Elikkutty, fell on hard times as Joseph was not allowed to take up his teaching job at his New Man College in Thodupuzha in Idukki district, run by the diocese. The college management had dismissed him after the attack. Salomi was forced to take favourite dishes off the family’s menu, particularly chicken and fish. Soon, they had shifted from Rs 30-a-kg rice to the government-doled Rs 2 per kg.
The last time Joseph remembers seeing Salomi happy was in November 2013, when a magistrate court acquitted him of the charge of insulting the Prophet. Salomi was at the time looking for work under the MNREGA. She thought Joseph would finally get his job back and their financial woes would be over. However, when Joseph went to the college seeking his job back, they turned him away. He even sought to be allowed to join service for a single day before his retirement on March 31, 2014, so that he would not be denied his benefits and salary arrears. But the Church did not budge.
As the day to his retirement neared, the roles at their Thenganakunnel home were reversed. It fell upon Joseph to take care of Salomi as she fell into depression. Joseph would take her for her doctor visits, driving with his left hand.
March 19, 2014, was one such day, Joseph remembers.
He had taken Salomi for a session with the psychiatrist and they were back by noon. “After lunch, just for a few minutes, my attention strayed,” he adds. “I found her hanging in the bathroom.”
While the Church did reappoint him after this, it was only for two days, and after he had given in writing that he wouldn’t complain against the diocese.
Salomi would have urged him to keep his faith, Joseph knows. And he has done that. Explaining why he still believed in God, he adds, “Why should I denounce my faith for the wrongs of a few priests?”
The Church is a different matter. “I got my life back despite the attack. I can even consider it an accident now… The irreparable loss has been the death of my wife due to the callous stand of the Church,” Joseph says.
On better days, the 56-year-old allows himself to think Salomi, seven years younger, may have been happy about one thing. “The attack has averted more catastrophic incidents in Kerala.”