Justice Leila Seth, who was the first woman Chief Justice of an Indian High Court and the first woman judge of the Delhi High Court, passed away at the age of 86.
Right from the start, Seth was shattering glass ceilings and excelling in her field, beginning with topping the London Bar Exam in 1958.
The day before she passed away, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for the four convicts in the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder case. Coincidentally, Seth had been a part of the committee formed after the horrific crime to review laws on sexual crimes.
That was one of the many highpoints of her illustrious career. Here is taking a look at Seth’s most important work over the years.
Justice Verma Committee Reforms
After the horrific 16th December gangrape that shook the nation, the Justice JS Verma Committee was formed to strengthen and introduce laws dealing with sexual offences. Seth was named one of the members of the Committee. One of the most important proposals made by it was the rejection of chemical castration as punishment as it failed to treat the social foundation of rape.
It suggested that the punishment for gangrape should be no less than 20 years. In cases of gangrape followed by death, the Committee recommended life imprisonment for the perpetrators.
Hindu Succession Act
Seth was a part of the Law Commission from 1997-2000, which is when she recommended equal succession rights for daughters under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
The amendment abolished the “limited owner” status accorded to women and finally in 2005, women were allowed an equal share in ancestral property.
Gender Rights Champion
Justice Seth advocated for a Uniform Civil Code stating that marriage, separation, custody, adoption, divorce, a woman’s rights within marriage and inheritance are not Hindu or Muslim or Parsi or Christian demands but “a cry for gender-just laws”.
The gender-just laws she asked for were a move towards a Uniform Civil Code.
Leila Seth advocated for equal rights for the LGBTQ community, not just because she happens to be the mother of Vikram Seth, an eminent, openly gay author.
The Supreme Court in its 2013 judgment called the LGBTQ community, a minuscule part of Indian society.
In June 2014, she wrote for an article in The Times of India:
“Supreme Court could not abdicate its responsibilities to protect their fundamental rights, or shuffle them off to Parliament. It would be like saying that the Parsi community could be legitimately imprisoned or deported at Parliament’s will because they number only a few tens of thousands.”
India lost Justice Seth and mourned her loss; the one way to honour her memory would be to follow her trailblazing wisdom to make society a better place for all.
Source: The Quint