'Not just a good 'woman' lawyer, Leila was a good lawyer'

By  Benita Fernando | Mumbai | Posted  07-May-2017

As India's first female chief justice passes away at 86, senior advocate Indira Jaising talks of the many reasons we should look up to her

Justice (retd) Leila Seth was the first woman judge in the Delhi HC. Pic/Getty Images
Justice (retd) Leila Seth was the first woman judge in the Delhi HC. Pic/Getty Images

Leila Seth who passed away after a cardiac arrest on Friday night, was an inspirational figure and will remain so in the history of the Indian judiciary. She started out as a lawyer at a time when the profession was male-dominated - it still continues to be so - and it was a conscious decision to do that.

The title of her autobiography, On Balance, describes the kind of person she was. She was part of the Justice Verma Committee [which was tasked with reforming rape laws following the 2012 gang-rape of Jyoti Sin­gh] and invested in the cause of women's issues. But, with Leila, you could see she was interested not just in gender justice but the paramount need for ju­s­tice. She chose to deal with cases related to children and taxes. She often vocalised her opposition to Section 377, for instance. She often spoke about her stand on the subject, which was made clear by the manner in which she had accepted the fact that her son, [bestselling author] Vikram Seth is gay. She believed that the capacity to love is the fundamental capacity of human beings.

Leila had the courage to call out the judiciary and the Sup­reme Court (SC), especially wh­en it let down the Delhi High Court judgment. In 2014, when the SC criminalis­ed homosexual intercourse between consenting adults, reve­rsing the High Court's decision to overturn Section 377, Leila publicly wrote about it. She also held a definite abhorrence for capital punishment and I deeply appreciate her for that.

Her passing away leaves us with a sense of sadness. She was ahead of her times and age did not take away anything from the joy for life that she had. She stood for liberal values, those that we need to recall during these times. She was not just a good "woman" lawyer, but a good lawyer, and that's the right manner of looking at her life and legacy.

Indira Jaising is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court