Thursday, November 26, 2015

India's Escape from Freedom: An article from the past

In December 1992 the situation in India was rather tense following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya (December 6). There followed riots in many cities including Bombay - as it was then called - which peaked in early January 1992, with 60 deaths on a single day. Most of the affected were poor and homeless, many of whom left Bombay together with their meagre belongings. Many say the city changed forever from that day. In March 1993 the city was rocked by an awful series of bomb blasts and things got even worse.

Together with colleagues in TIFR, I volunteered to help at a "refugee camp" in Malad where doctors had gathered to provide medical assistance to the poorest slum dwellers - not those who had a small shack with a tin roof and some pots and pans, but those who had four bamboo poles connected up with plastic sheets. It was a grim experience. Not being a doctor I had little to do but observe the affected people. Injured or not, they all looked dazed and blank. With very good reason, for they had done nothing to deserve what had happened to them.

A month later in February 1993 I read Erich Fromm's book "Escape from Freedom" about the psychological roots of Nazism, written at a time when this ideology was still very much in existence. The ideas in this book inspired to write an article in the Indian context. It was published in a Bombay newspaper that has since folded, and I don't have a copy of the original, but have fortunately saved the tex file.

The situation in India today is somewhat different, but a few observations in the article may resonate. For example the "intol******" word featured even back then!

The link is here:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

How democracy works elsewhere

This evening the Mayor of Vienna hosted a reception for the delegates at The World Academy of Sciences meeting. It was held in the grand ballroom (or whatever it's really called) of the Rathaus, or City Hall. The room is five miles long and looks like this:

The food didn't risk winning any awards, but was quite OK. The wine was plentiful. The live jazz band played standards of Antonio Carlos Jobim, evoking an altogether different city from Vienna.

But the fun part was the ride back to the hotel. The taxi driver was shaped like a wine barrel and, as P.G. Wodehouse would have delicately put it, "pickled to the gills". I was slow to figure this out and risked life and limb by sitting in front, next to him. Here is the dialogue as I recall it:

Driver [while accelerating to the speed of light]: So how was our mayor?
Me (vaguely): Oh, he was great.
Other occupants of our taxi: The mayor wasn't there.
Me (embarrassed): Oh he wasn't? Well someone gave a speech. Maybe it was the Deputy Mayor.
Driver: The Deputy Mayor is a woman of Greek origin. She's called Vassilakoy.
Me: Well, it definitely wasn't her.
Driver: Was it a young man who spoke well?
Me: Yes that was it. He did speak well.
Driver: That's the second Deputy Mayor. You know how politics works, one from every party.
Me: Could you please try killing fewer pedestrians as you drive? [I didn't say that out loud, only in my mind]
Driver: He speaks well, right! Well he should. He makes 20,000 Euros a month. So, he really better speak well.
Me: [Eyes closed as we nearly crush a few cars in the next lane]
Driver: I probably pay one cent of his salary. So, if he doesn't speak well, I can go to him and say "hey you should speak well".
Me: Yes you should definitely do that. We've reached our hotel. [totter out and say a quiet prayer of thanks]

Friday, November 20, 2015

Albie Sachs and "soft vengeance"

The most moving lecture at the Vienna meeting of The World Academy of Sciences that I'm presently attending was a talk by Albert Sachs, anti-apartheid campaigner and former constitutional judge from South Africa. He has a colourful history. During the apartheid era he was exiled to England and later Mozambique, where in 1988 the South African security services placed a bomb in his car. He survived the attack but lost an arm as well as an eye. What happened after that is something to which I'll return below.

The "Grootboom dilemma" that you see in the title of his talk refers to the case of a poor woman called Mrs Grootboom who, along with several other shanty dwellers, was served an eviction notice because their shanties were on private land. The High Court was sympathetic to the shanty dwellers and ordered the government to provide them "rudimentary shelter irrespective of the availability of resources". On appeal, the Constitutional Court (with Albie Sachs as one of the judges) again sympathised with the shanty dwellers and ruled that "the state was obliged to take positive action to meet the needs of those living in extreme conditions of poverty, homelessness or intolerable housing". But at the same time, this court held that "land invasions" were not acceptable.

The above details are available on Wikipedia. But what moved me greatly during the talk was the question that Albie Sachs repeatedly raised and that had clearly exercised him as a judge: how could the state not intervene on behalf of people living in distressing conditions? And at the very same time, how could the state allow people to grab private property? The talk beautifully evoked the tension created by these two contrasting, but important, legal and constitutional concerns. What came across was that the judges did not blindly uphold one, or the other, of these concerns. Rather, they pro-actively convinced the government to find a compromise solution and ease the living conditions of the homeless as expeditiously as possible.

In the end though, Mrs Grootboom died before permanent housing could be found for her and her family. Albie Sachs said the image of her lying in her bed with a plastic sheet for a roof and the rains due to arrive, kept haunting him. "What have I done to deserve this?" he imagined her wondering.

I don't want to go into too many details of the impact this discussion had on me. But I will admit to an enormous feeling of shame that I personally have not focused much of my life on improving the lives of socially deprived people in India. I see it as a sign of the greatness of the South African courts, as well as the government, to have taken so seriously their obligations towards the poor and deprived.

Now let me return to the impact of the bomb. Albie Sachs recuperated in London and then returned to South Africa to help in drafting the new democratic constitution after which Nelson Mandela made him a judge of the Constitutional Court. On the way, he came up with the notion of "soft vengeance" which is in the title of his autobiography on which a  recent movie has also been based. This notion is based on the Gandhian view that "an eye for an eye will make the world blind". In the case of Sachs, this could have been taken quite literally - he had lost an eye, as well as an arm, and South African nationalists were vowing to avenge this on his behalf. But Sachs disagreed with vengeance based on violence. He felt that helping to bring in democracy and working for the poor were, in fact, his soft vengeance. I'll leave you with his words on the subject:

"The whole achievement of our wonderful new democratic constitution is soft vengeance. It totally smites the horror, the division, the hatreds, the separations of apartheid but it does so in a way that is benign and creative and humanising. It's a far more profound vengeance than doing to them what they did to us."

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Polarised optics

Polarisation can be useful in physics, but it's a danger to society. There is widespread discussion in India on this topic these days, but very little attempt to highlight what's so bad about it. So I'd like to contribute my bit to the discussion.

Though we often forget, in fact we all have multiple identities. Within India we have a regional identity, a linguistic identity, a gender identity, a religious identity, a class identity, a caste identity and a professional identity, to list just a bare minimum set. Some may deny having one or other of these identities (e.g. one sometimes hears the pious declaration "I don't believe in caste"), and that's also an available option. We are also free to add other identities, e.g. one's allegiance to a particular soccer team.

Our multiple identities force us to maintain an active thought-process. In principle we may want to uphold all our identities, but usually we focus on some of them and compromise on others. These compromises will vary from day to day and it takes mental work to figure out what is most important at any given time. I believe this is really what keeps human beings going. In contrast a single identity would enable us to be mentally lazy as we can just pick some representative of our group and follow everything they say. Our diverse identities also help us internally: they create interactions between multiple parts of ourselves that result in our becoming more complex, more subtle and more interesting.

Let me offer this thought-experiment: if a marathi female physicist and a kannada male physicist are both given a national award at the same time, they would be most likely to congratulate each other in a friendly spirit and try to set up a collaboration between their labs. The same people might get worked up over language if they live near the contentious border of their two states, or about gender if there is a debate about sexism in academia. And in all these cases they would have completely forgotten their religious identity, if any. As long as their disagreements remain within acceptable limits of behaviour, such a process is a very positive one and leads to a healthy society.

Another example comes from the world of Hindustani Classical Music, one of the greatest surviving art forms in the world and an essential feature in the soundtrack of India. Its evolving history led to repeated intersections between the lives of orthodox hindus and equally orthodox muslims. In those days it was particularly sacrilegious for a member of one community to live inside the house of another but guru-shishya-parampara often required this. It is documented that muslim teachers generously permitted their hindu students to run separate vegetarian kitchens within their houses. Both sides would follow their religions closely but not too closely: many of the muslim vocalists enjoyed a drink or three, and the caste hindus were not above "tasting" a morsel or two of "non-veg" from time to time. Through the slight cracks caused by such violations, a new shared identity seeped out and gave the world the most sublime and creative music.

To digress briefly, there is an amusing corollary. Given two people who have almost all identities in common, they are likely to squabble about the few remaining differences. It has been remarked that no regional hatred comes close to that felt by residents of one Swiss canton towards those of the neighbouring canton. Likewise, for Bengalis the terminal struggle can be between the relative supremacy of prawns or Ilish. But these squabbles dissipate instantly if a Swiss person meets, say, a German (with Bengalis the struggle never dissipates! Joke!!). For the same reason, if Martians decided to invade South Asia then all the fractious neighbours on the subcontinent would instantly make peace.

To return to the main point - what's going on in India, not for the first time, is an attempt to make us forget who or what we are in pursuit of a uniform religious identity. It is an attempt not just to make hindus feel more hindu, but also to make muslims feel more muslim. This is a singularly anti-national and unpatriotic activity, but it's very profitable for religious leaders and the politicians who are loyal to them. The more we assert our religious identities, the more these people can assert power and control over us. It's no secret that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are frequently quoted in an almost approving tone ("you make fun of our gods? Try doing that in Saudi Arabia"). Similar comments emerge with regularity from the American Bible Belt in pursuit of their fundamentalist brand of christianity. Religious fundamentalists may appear to dispute each other's truth but in reality they depend on each other for sustenance, as nicely highlighted in this article. They are successful in that all too many people are happy to suspend their better judgement and line up alongside.

Fortunately for the nation, even in today's atmosphere other identities continue to trump religion at regular intervals. For an eloquent example, read this recent open letter from a malayali. By itself it may seem a little polarising on regional lines, but when seen as a counterpoint to religious polarisation it serves an important purpose.

It's important to point out that we are not only seeing polarisation in favour of religious conservatism, but also in the opposite direction. One sees some liberals giving up their rational thought process, their commendable breadth and diversity, to stand up against communalism in a unipolar way. The moment a communal argument or statement rears its head, we start up a shouting chorus and link it (often incorrectly) to all previous/future occurrences of everything vaguely similar. Occasionally I see this happening in myself too and it makes me uncomfortable.

So I would like to take a moment to praise all my friends who have shown some diversity in their liberalism. For example I enjoy the noisy arguments about the return of national awards as a form of protest. In my view there really is no "right" or "wrong" about this. Some people have done so and it is their right, others can argue against it and they have valid points to make too. So liberals are divided over this, but united in their disapproval of communal/religious polarisation. This sort of nuanced range of views, much more than a unipolar stand of opposition, is what makes liberalism strong. I would also like to praise those conservatives who still hold shades of opinion rather than just aligning with whatever is going on. I'm not referring to the right-wing politicians who've recently sensed an opportunity to bash their own side, but to those who argue coherently that certain things this government is doing should be supported while other things should be opposed. That is the way many liberals including myself responded to the previous government, and indeed it is the only healthy response to any government in a democracy.

In conclusion let me say that I'm all for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and would like to facilitate a cleaner India in any way I can. At the same we must build a genuinely modern Indian society based on fraternity amid diversity, and we shouldn't accept anything less than that.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Emergent memories

ie emergency
On 26 June 1975, I woke up to find my father looking extremely worried and reading the newspaper. "Something very bad has happened", he said. A State of Emergency had been declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, opposition leaders arrested, democratic rights suspended and censorship imposed on the press. My mother looked worried but would not say anything. Soon thereafter both my parents advised me to be careful not to talk about politics at St Xavier's College, where I was studying for my B.Sc. Anyone could report anyone else and have them arrested and "put away" on the slightest pretext. I was also warned to be careful what I said on the phone, since phones could be tapped.

The press reacted to censorship with a certain spirit -- the Indian Express featured a blank editorial, which you can see on the left. The Times of India featured a fake obituary thus: "O'Cracy, D.E.M., beloved husband of T. Ruth, loving father of L.I. Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justicia, expired on June 26." I can vividly remember my father showing me that obit, and the thrill of horror I felt on reading something so delightfully subversive.

At the time, my father was a judge of the High Court at Bombay. He was less guarded at work than he had advised me to be, and made little secret of his dislike of Mrs Gandhi and her vile politics. Among other things, she had called upon the judiciary to be "forward-looking" and "committed" to her "progressive" cause. Presently I learned from my father that the High Court judges had stopped eating lunch together. One faction among them was now committed, the other refused to bend before the imperious dictator. They could no longer stand each others' company.

Things were already unpleasant in the judiciary before the Emergency. A few years earlier three Supreme Court judgements had gone against Mrs Gandhi, in each of which a certain Justice A.N. Ray had opined in her favour though he had not been able to prevail against his fellow judges. In 1973 Mrs Gandhi broke judicial tradition by appointing him Chief Justice of India, superseding three judges more senior than himself whose crime had been to deliver judgements that went against her.

Things came to a head in April 1976 when four of the five seniormost judges of the Supreme Court handed down a judgement in "A.D.M. Jabalpur vs. Shukla", better known as the Habeas Corpus case. The issue at hand was that people were being arrested and imprisoned without trial. Could they challenge their arrest in a court of law? The Supreme Court voted no, by a 4-1 majority. Thus, those arrested without valid cause were doomed to remain in jail with no legal recourse. 

The "no" voters in this case were Chief Justice A.N. Ray, along with Justices M.H. Beg, Y.V. Chandrachud and P.N. Bhagwati.  Justice Beg went on to make the following sickening statement: "We understand that the care and concern bestowed by the state authorities upon the welfare of detenues who are well housed, well fed and well treated, is almost maternal." But there was also a dissenter, Justice Hans Raj Khanna, who
eloquently wrote: "The Constitution and the laws of India do not permit life and liberty to be at the mercy of the absolute power of the Executive." He was duly punished for this. Following a pattern she had previously established, Mrs G. later elevated Justice Beg to the top position superseding Justice Khanna.

Wikipedia tells us:

"Both Justices Chandrachud and Bhagwati did much to subsequently atone for their majority opinions in the habeas corpus case"

but is touchingly shy about telling us what exactly they did by way of atonement.

My father was shattered at the betrayal, by Supreme Court judges, of the Indian Constitution and the principles of democracy. Meanwhile a smaller version of Delhi played out in the Bombay High Court, where my father himself had annoyed certain members of Mrs Gandhi's coterie, notably one Ramrao Adik, by failing to show "committment" to Mrs Gandhi in his judgements. In return, Mrs G had him transferred to the Kolkata High Court. I quote from a 2013 article in the Hindu:

"Mass transfers of 16 independent High Court judges, including A.P. Sen, Chinnappa Reddy, B.J. Divan, Sankalchand Sheth, J.R. Vimadalal and P.M. Mukhi, from their parent High Courts were made."

I feel proud to see my father described as "independent", though I must also admit the author of the above article was his close friend.

The rest of this story is painful so I'll be brief. The threat of vindictive transfer, coupled with the appalling Supreme Court judgement and its impact on the morale of the judiciary, affected my father's health and he suffered a heart attack in June 1976, followed by a lengthy period in hospital, subsequent release and then a final attack that took him away forever on September 6, 1976. He did not live to see the end of the Emergency.

I should have written this story much earlier. What's motivated me to do so now is the rubbish going around that those who protest against today's lynchings and bigotry and blame today's government for it, were silent during the Emergency. Well in our family we were not silent during the Emergency, so please do shut up.

P.S. The full article from which I briefly quoted above was written two years ago. It recalls events during the Emergency in the context of the UPA-II government's proposal to appoint a Judicial Appointments Commission. Three days ago this proposal was shot down by the Supreme Court, and there seems to be a confrontation brewing between the present (NDA) government and the judiciary.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Prawns and greens pasta

I occasionally used to post recipes on this blog, but haven't done so in a long time. Among other things, doing so helps me recover a forgotten recipe. The recipes I post are usually self-invented, but inspired by something I ate or read about somewhere. I only post them when the result is incredibly delicious. All the ingredients are freely available in Pune, where I live.

So if you love prawns, hop into the kitchen and get going:

Serves 2-3:

250 gm prawns, peeled and deveined
One large zucchini, diced
A handful of rucola ("rocket" or "roquette" or "arugula")
Two celery stalks cut in small pieces
3-4 tomatoes, blanched and peeled, then cut into large chunks
Long pasta (spaghetti or better, linguine or fettucine)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small teaspoon of mashed/chopped garlic
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 cube of vegetable stock, crushed into a coarse powder and used in place of salt.


1. Gently warm olive oil in a pan. Add garlic and parsley. Do not overheat the oil.
2. Allow this to cook slowly until garlic is very slightly browned.
3. Add celery, then zucchini. Sprinkle with half the vegetable stock (reserve the other half until later).
4. When the zucchini starts to brown a little, add the prawns and stir. A minute later add the tomatoes and the remaining stock. Cover and keep on LOW heat for about 8-10 minutes until the zucchini starts to soften. The tomato chunks should not disintegrate and the prawns should not be overcooked.

5. Turn off the heat. The pan should contain a nice watery prawn-flavoured gravy. Add the rucola at this point. Check for salt. Do not try to evaporate or thicken the gravy.

The sauce when it's done
The final dish
6. In a pot, heat plenty of water, add a tablespoon of salt and throw in the pasta. Cook for about a minute less than recommended on the package. Then drain and mix the pasta with the sauce. Stir well and cover, with the heat either turned off or very low, for about 1-2 minutes.

7. Serve

I love this dish for its mix of bright colours and subtle flavours. What makes it special is the way the zucchini and tomatoes absorb and echo the perfume of seafood. It needs to be made with some delicacy. If you're Indian you will surely ask if it's OK to add onions, cheese or chillies. The answers are i) NO, ii) NO and iii) NO.

On the subject of cheese with pasta, I must recount a memorable dinner in Venice circa 1990 with Dutch friends. Since I speak Italian, I was doing the ordering. One of them ordered pasta with clams and then told me to ask the waiter for parmesan cheese. I said this was a no-no in Italy: no cheese with seafood. Unconvinced, she spotted some bowls of grated parmesan on a nearby shelf, picked up one, brought it to the table and spooned the cheese over her pasta. When the waiter came by next, I thought he noticed the cheese bowl but he said nothing. Afterwards my friend ordered chocolate mousse for dessert. As I conveyed this order, the waiter came very close to me and whispered: "One wonders if the lady would like parmesan cheese with that"...

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Thoughts on the gallows

I am opposed to the death penalty. But I have some strong disagreements with many of my liberal friends who commented when Yakub Memon was hanged a few days ago. That I also don’t agree with the views of conservatives on this subject goes without saying, but I’ll say it at more length below.

The death penalty is a stage in the progress of ideas about justice. There have been more barbaric things in the past, such as mob lynching, which is now treated as unacceptable wherever there is a developed legal system. A mob can neither verify the guilt of the accused nor decide what punishment should be imposed. These conclusions must be reached by attention to hard facts, careful investigation and a calm dispassionate approach – in other words, a legal and penal system. An important part of such a system is a range of punishments that can be calibrated to fit the degree of the crime.

In the evolution of legal systems, the death penalty was present just about everywhere, from the Christian to the Islamic to the Chinese world. Wikipedia tells us that “By 1820 in Britain, there were 160 crimes that were punishable by death, including crimes such as shoplifting, petty theft, stealing cattle, or cutting down trees in a public place.” Meanwhile back home, the Agni Purana recommends the death penalty for “polluting ponds and temples” according to the book “Crime and Punishment in Ancient India, C. A.D. 300 to A.D. 1100” by Sukla Das (see page 72). By the above rules, a good fraction of the British and pretty much everyone in India would be dead by now. Executions were frequently public and people would come to watch - along with their children - and even applaud. This is understandable: if a picnicker throwing a plastic bottle into a lake in India were publicly hanged today, I too would come and applaud! But at least I understand that I'm joking. Reality used to be much less funny,  and it hasn't changed much in some places.
During the 20th century two important developments took place across the world. One is that courts started not to impose the death penalty even when the offense was severe and execution was an available option in law. We can assume that in doing so, they were guided by an evolution of public beliefs. Public executions were also deemed unseemly and largely stopped. The second development is that, also keeping up with public opinion, parliaments started to abolish the penalty completely or make it so extremely rare that in practice it would never be used. As a result, today 159 countries have actually or virtually abolished the death penalty, while only 36 countries actively practise it. The situation  by country is summarised here and there is an illuminating colour-coded world map. I found it intriguing that Gabon, Latvia, Benin, Mongolia and Madagascar have recently abolished the death penalty, and considerably less surprising that Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia still carry out public executions. Capital punishment is banned by the Council of Europe, and the United Nations General Assembly tried to ban it a few years ago but were opposed by many countries, notably China, India, the United States and Indonesia.

What was the evolution of public opinion and belief that led to a slowdown in executions and eventually an outright ban in so many parts of the world?  This stemmed from a growing ethical discomfort with the fact that anyone should take it upon themselves to execute another person, no matter what that other person may have done. If murder is abhorrent in the first place, civilised society harms itself and its own level of civilisation if it carries out an act of the same level of abhorrence. One of the most influential writers on the subject was the 18th century Italian jurist and philosopher, Cesare Beccaria, who according to Wikipedia:

"openly condemned the death penalty on two grounds: first, because the state does not possess the right to take lives; and secondly, because capital punishment is neither a useful nor a necessary form of punishment"

The article goes on to say:

"Beccaria developed in his treatise a number of innovative and influential principles: 
  • punishment had a preventive (deterrent), not a retributive, function; 
  • punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed; 
  • the probability of punishment, not its severity, would achieve the preventive effect; 
  • procedures of criminal convictions should be public; and finally, 
  • in order to be effective, punishment should be prompt"
I have not read Beccaria in any detail, but I strongly agree with these observations. The third point in the above list is something I've been saying for many years, even when I deal with penalties for academic ethics violations (sadly capital punishment is not an option in this context!! Sorry, joke over.). Namely, what prevents crimes is a relatively milder punishment that is applied on transgressors with certainty, rather than a harsh punishment that may totally ruin the lives of some while letting others go free.

I fear that few in India, even among the highly educated, have reflected on principles of natural justice or tried to understand penology. Indeed, as a society we are not really past the mob lynching stage. With the most minimal factual information, people will recommend the death penalty for anything that makes their blood boil. I've had the unpleasant experience of arguing at length with Facebook friends who feel that rapists, for example, should be hanged. I understand their anger but they rarely seem to understand that justice delivered in anger is not justice. They also don't understand that the principles one is arguing over do not imply any particular "sympathy for the accused", they are principles and have nothing to do with any specific accused.

I would suggest (to whom?) that in India we have more well-informed discussions and debates on justice and on penology, and slowly try to move our society in the direction of abolishing capital punishment. But let's not have these discussions in the context of a horrific case like the 1993 blasts or the Delhi gang-rape. The discussions need to be rational and free of an emotional background.

So, back to the late Yakub Memon. If anyone simply says that whatever he may be guilty of, they don’t believe in capital punishment and therefore he shouldn't have been hanged, then I fully agree. Indeed this is my precise view. But some very strange things have been said about this case on social media. First of all, a view has circulated that he was hanged merely for being the brother of a criminal. However the charges against him are rather explicit according to this article in the Hindustan Times:

"According to the charges, key conspirators Tiger Memon, along with Dawood Ibrahim and his brother Anees Ibrahim, had called some of their trusted men, including Yakub, to Dubai between December 1992 and January 1993 to chalk out a plan to execute the serial blasts in Mumbai. It was alleged that Memon had played a key role in the execution of the conspiracy. He was also accused of giving financial assistance to the terrorist activity. It was alleged that Memon had, through his contacts, arranged Rs 21.90 lakh for the execution of the plan. The prosecution had alleged that the Memon family played an active role in the blasts and that their own vehicles were used to plant bombs. Yakub was also accused of distribution of arms and ammunition, detonators and explosives to other accused." 

I cannot verify that these are the exact charges, nor can I be certain that he was indeed guilty of them. And I sense that among many liberal thinkers there is a suspicion the courts were biased in condemning him to death, or that they did so based on insufficient evidence. But (given that we are not party to additional information) we must also contemplate the possibility that he really did everything listed above. If so, he was aware that large numbers of innocent people were going to die in bomb blasts and he materially conspired to make this happen. For this, it seems quite clear he would be deserving of the highest punishment in the land. In this context I disagree with a lot of the whataboutism going on these days: what about Maya Kodnani? what about the Staines killers? what about anti-Sikh riots and Gujarat riots? Well what about them indeed. If anyone implicated in those events was wrongly acquitted, bailed or whatever, that would be a miscarriage or delay of justice and it should certainly be talked about or challenged. But this is no reason to deny Yakub Memon the maximum punishment for knowingly conspiring in a truly awful crime.

The maximum punishment today in India is capital punishment and this is what he got. I've already mentioned that in itself this punishment is morally repugnant to me, and now I would like to bring up one more of its limitations: if evidence were to emerge tomorrow that he is not guilty of the charges (and we have no basis to argue whether that can happen or not) it would be too late to do anything about it. Significant numbers of people executed, typically for murder, have been found innocent after they were dead -- a famous case is that of Timothy Evans. This is another very powerful argument against the death penalty.