By Ila Ananya
Justice Leila Seth, who was the first woman judge at the Delhi High Court and the first woman to become chief justice of a state high court (in Himachal Pradesh) passed away on Saturday, 6th May, reportedly after suffering a cardio-respiratory attack.
Back in 1958, Seth had been the first woman to top the London Bar exams. Her autobiography, On Balance, has stories of how she began her professional life as a stenographer at the Assam Rail Link Project before taking up law, because the classes didn’t require strict attendance. She writes of biases among male judges and lawyers she interacted with, handling cases from tax to civil and criminal cases, and how she balanced her work and home life.
Importantly, Seth was also responsible for the amendments to the Hindu Succession Act that gave women equal rights to joint family property, and was a member of the Justice JS Verma Committee that was set up in the aftermath of the horrific gang rape in December 2012 in Delhi, in the hope of strengthening criminal laws and greater punishments for crimes against women. In a 2014 interview with Namita Bhandare for Mint, Seth has also been quoted as saying, “As I’ve got older, I have begun to realise that women have been put down for so long that reservation is absolutely essential.”
Watch her TED Talk where she speaks about the change in laws, dowry and inheritance, and stories on both from her time as a lawyer.
This piece previously mistakenly attributed Leila Seth’s comments on reservation to this TED Talk rather than her interview with Namita Bhandare. This has been corrected.