The first Indian woman to become chief justice of a high court Justice Leila Seth, who passed away at the age of 86 on Friday, donated organs before death.
Justice Seth’s younger son Shantum Seth revealed that there will not funeral as she had pledged to donate her organs. "She died of a cardiac seizure in the night (Friday), at 10:28 pm. My brother Vikram, sister and our other family members are here," he said.
"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.
Justice Leila Seth: A life of service
In an illustrious legal career spanning over 50 years, Leila Seth donned multiple hats including that of a judge, an author and a loving mother, all with equal aplomb.
She started her career in 1959 in Patna High Court as a young London-trained barrister, and spent 10 years there, seeking a foothold in a field dominated by men.
But, Seth rose through the ranks to become country’s first woman chief justice of a high court, and broke many a glass ceiling in the process while earning respect and admiration, both in the courtroom and outside.
She was the first woman from India to have topped the London Bar exam, and her younger son Shantum Seth was born there while she was studying after her marriage.
The British press had hailed her triumph, describing Seth as: ‘Mother in Law’.
“Yes, they called me ‘Mother in Law’, with a clever wordplay to refer to my role as a mother and my legal career, which was just to begin. I and my husband, still recall that cheeky caption,” she had told PTI in an interview in April last year.
A legal luminary, she leaves a huge void behind. But even in her death, her life will inspire others, as her organs were donated, as per her wish, for transplant or medical research purposes.
Vice President Hamid Ansari expressing deep grief, said Seth “blazed a trail” for women in the legal field and will be long remembered for her commitment to protecting human rights in India.
Seth also held the distinction of being the first woman judge of the Delhi High Court and also the first woman chief justice of a high court (Himachal Pradesh), an achievement that still inspires many women to take up legal career.
Her death last night has triggered a wave of grief and nostalgia, with noted historian and author Ram Guha extolling her as a “remarkable human being, an exceptional Indian, a sublime combination of intelligence, grace, and courage.”
In the April interview, Seth, the mother of celebrated author Vikram Seth, had also talked about her fondness for Patna, the place where she lived for 10 years, having a “very special” place in her heart.
“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 used to do in his childhood days, he rushed up to the terrace to get a view of the Ganga,” she had said.
Even in her autobiography ‘On Balance’, she dedicated a special section for her Patna days and the ‘White Pillars’ bungalow, the residence of the general manager of the Bata Factory in Patna’s Digha area.
Her husband Premo Seth worked for the shoe-making major.
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.
While her elder son Vikram made a name for himself as a writer, the eminent jurist was no less an author with a bestseller - ‘On Balance’ to her credit.
The author of “A Suitable Boy” in fact wrote a foreward for her mother in the book.
Seth, who was born in October 1930 in Lucknow, also championed women and gender rights.
She 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.
A trailblazer in the legal field and endowed with a compassionate heart, she will be remembered for raising the bar of excellence to a new height.
(With Inputs from PTI)