Taking note of her advanced age, the Supreme Court set free a 93-year-old woman, who was found guilty of looting her neighbour’s crockery shop during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

In November 1984, Ashi Devi and three other women took advantage of the confusion and bloodshed on the streets to ransack a shop, run by a Sikh family in Takriwalan here.

It took the owners of the shop Jagjit Sigh and Paramjit Kaur, nine years to even get an FIR registered, that too after they approached the Jain Aggarwal Committee constituted to enquire into the riot crimes.

In 2004, a trial court found Ms. Devi and her fellow accused guilty of the crime. The conviction was upheld by the Delhi High Court, which Ms. Devi had approached in appeal in 2009. Further, the High Court found that the accused persons were still squatting in the shop premises and ordered their eviction.

Ms. Devi’s legal battle moved to the Supreme Court, where her lawyer A.K. Panda argued that the FIR was filed after nine years in 1993 and there was no eye-witness testimony during the trial supporting the prosecution claim that she had stolen crockery from her neighbour’s shop.

Dismissing the argument, a vacation Bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and C. Nagappan observed the delay in filing FIR was due to no fault of the shop owners.

In its judgment on May 9, the Bench described how the riots “targeted the Sikh community when the former Prime Minister was assassinated by her own bodyguards in 1984.”

It observed how the shop owners had for nine years tried to get the police to file an FIR and it was “only when Jain Aggarwal Committee was constituted that they got an opportunity to file affidavits about the incident and direction came to be issued for registering the FIR and in the process the delay of nine years has occurred.”

The court found Ms. Devi guilty of “taking advantage of the riots to break open the locks of the shop, loot the goods and continue to be in illegal possession of the shop for nearly two decades.”

However, Ms. Devi’s advanced age came to her rescue as the court decided to take a lenient view that she was 93 years old and had spent three months in jail in 2009. It modified her prison term taking into account the three months she had already undergone.

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