NAPM pays respectful salutes to Jst. Leila Seth
Abolition of Death Penalty and implementation of Jst. Verma Commission recommendations would be a befitting tribute to her life and work.
National Alliance of People’s Movements is deeply saddened to learn of the demise of Justice (Retd.) Lelila Seth, well-known (she disliked the word eminent) jurist and champion of rights of women and marginalized genders. Her 6 decades of work as a legal practitioner including about two decades as a judge was a testimony to the values that she carried easily on her – conviction, compassion and wisdom.
It is indeed remarkable that even as an octogenarian, she accepted responsibility of being on the Jst. J.S Verma Committee constituted by Govt. of India for amendments to criminal law, in the light of the Dec, 2012 Nirbhaya (Jyoti Singh) gang rape and gruesome murder that sparked protests by women, citizens and youth across Delhi and India. Jst. Seth, along with Jst JS Verma, as the Committee Chairperson and Mr. Gopal Subramaniam submitted a comprehensive report to the Union Govt. within a record one-month period and made some far reaching and significant recommendations on rape law as well as on rights of women and marginalized genders, who are subject to sexual crimes. While some recommendations such as an expanded definition of rape was accepted; many other progressive recommendations of the Committee such as review of AFSPA, criminalization of marital rape, compensation to rape victims etc. were not incorporated in the final version of the Criminal Law (Amendment Act) Act, 2013 that was passed by the Parliament.
Jst. Seth’s book, Talking of Justice: People’s Rights in Modern India, published shortly after the Committee submitted its report conveys her dynamic understanding and position on a whole range of contemporary issues including death penalty, marital rape, consent, gender neutrality of rape, juvenile justice, rights of children, women, jail inmates, Uniform Civil Code, administration of justice etc. Her autobiography (On Balance), translated into Hindi as Aurat aur Adalat is also a crucial first person narrative of the thick walls of patriarchy within the judiciary and the sexist challenges a woman, whether as a client or convict, a lawyer or a judge faces within the system. Indian Judiciary needs more such strong and stoic women to render justice to the masses.
As an active member of the Law Commission, her role, leading to recognition of the property rights of daughters under Hindi Succession Act is also well-appreciated. As the first woman Chief Justice of a High Court, she pushed the frontiers further within the judiciary, establishing the fact that women can be equally good or better judges, if only they are given appropriate opportunities at the right time. She has truly been a champion all her life, from the beginning of her legal career when she became the first woman to top the Bar in England.
She was also a strong votary of LGBTQIA+ rights as a jurist and also as a mother who respected the sexual orientation of her son, acclaimed author Vikram Seth. She had a principled and reasoned position against the death penalty. It will indeed be a befitting tribute to this stalwart if, the Apex Court reviews its recent decision to impose death penalty on the four convicts in the Nirbhaya case and the Parliament removes death penalty permanently from the statute book. Jst. Leila Seth will truly be missed for all that she lived and loved. We convey our heart-felt condolences to her immediate and extended family, fraternity and well-wishers.