Leila Seth, first woman chief justice of state high court, dies; donates organs

She was 86 and died of cardiac seizure on Friday night at her residence in Noida.

New Delhi: Leila Seth died the way she lived – in the service of people. The first woman chief justice of a high court in India and author Vikram Seth's mother, donated her organs before her death, her family said. Seth was 86.

"She died of a cardiac seizure last night, at 10:28 PM. My brother Vikram, sister and our other family members are here," her younger son Shantum Seth told PTI.

Her family said there would be no funeral as she had pledged to donate her organs.

"My mother has donated her eyes and other organs for transplant or medical research purposes. So we will not have a funeral," Shantum said.

On May 28, there would be a prayer meeting in her honour, he added.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled her death, tweeting that her "remarkable contribution" to the field of law would be remembered. Vice President Hamid Ansari said she "blazed a trail for women".

The eminent jurist, much admired in the field of law and in other professions, championed sharper legislation for women.

Seth was one of the three members of the Justice Verma Committee which was constituted after the December 16 2012 gangrape in Delhi for recommending legal amendments for quicker trials and enhanced punishments for criminals accused of committing sexual assaults against women.

Seth, who broke many a glass ceiling in the legal field, was the first woman from India to have topped the London Bar exam, the first woman judge of the Delhi High Court and also the first woman chief justice of a state high court (Himachal Pradesh).

She started her legal practice at the Patna High Court, where she spent 10 years from till 1969 before moving to Delhi. Her husband, Premo Seth, worked in the private sector.

In an interview to PTI in April last year, she had spoken about her experiences at court in the early days of her career and her fondness for Patna.

"We were very few women as the legal field was all dominated by men. Feisty barrister Dharamshila Lal was my contemporary, in fact my senior, who was known to jangle her bangles at judges in the courtroom, if they didn't pay attention," she had said.

On her days in Patna, she said, "It is always a homecoming for us in Patna. When Vikram and I had gone there for a literature festival, he insisted that we went to 'White Pillars' bungalow, our old home. And, like he did in his childhood days, he rushed up to the terrace to get a view of the Ganga."

Close family friend Tehmina Punwani said, she "lived with the courage of her convictions" and set an example by her high standard of exemplary living.

"We had just got together last month to celebrate Shantum's 60th birthday," Tehmina said, adding that his elder brother, the author of "A Suitable Boy", had messaged her about the death. "He is devastated," she said.

Shantum said that about three weeks ago, his mother had fallen down and fractured her hip.

"She had undergone surgery at the Apollo Hospital and was discharged a week ago," he said.

Last night, the family called for an ambulance and PCR when she collapsed in her NOIDA residence. "But it was too late," he said.

The eminent jurist was also an author and her autobiography 'On Balance' was a bestseller.

Seth had also authored 'Talking of Justice: People's Rights in Modern India', published in 2014, which looked at critical issues that she had engaged with in a legal career spanning over 50 years.

( Source : PTI )
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