Leila Seth, the first woman judge of the Delhi high court, died of cardiac arrest at her Noida home on Friday night, her family and doctors said. She was 86.
As per her wish, her body was donated to the Army College of Medical Sciences for medical research.
Leila Seth is the mother of novelist Vikram Seth. She was admitted to Apollo Hospitals in Delhi in August last year with a brain haemorrhage but was discharged and walked back home, doctors said.
“She was admitted again a couple of weeks ago with a femur fracture after a fall, but was treated and discharged on May 2,” said Pushpendra Renjen, senior consultant neurologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in Delhi.
Renjen, who was treating Leila, said he spoke to Vikram on Friday who told him she was her health was fine. The doctor was informed later that the former judge had passed away at night the same day. Renjen said he was informed of her death by her son Shantum.
The family said that at 10:28 pm on Friday, Leila complained of uneasiness, followed by a mild heart stroke. A doctor who lives nearby was called. “Soon after the doctor checked her, she died even before the ambulance could reach our house,” said Shantum.
Justice Seth broke many a glass ceiling during her lifetime, becoming the first woman chief justice of a high court when she was elevated as the chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh high court. She was the first woman to top the London Bar exam and the first female judge of the Delhi high court.
She was also a part of the Justice JS Verma committee that was set up to re-look at rape laws in India after the December 16, 2012 gang rape in Delhi.
She is survived by husband, two sons, and a daughter. Leila Seth was considered a pioneering legal mind who was appointed the first woman judge of the Delhi HC in 1978.
She lived with her husband Prem Nath Seth in her Noida Sector 15 A house.
Vikram, his younger brother Shantum, a Mussoorie-based Buddhism preacher, and sister Aradhna, a filmmaker who lives in Goa, had gathered at the house on April 15 for Shantum’s birthday. The brothers stayed back and the sister left for Goa after the birthday function.
The family said she would spend most of her time in her study — an eight by eight room filled with books, awards and trophies. “She was satisfied that she could write an autobiography — On Balance,” said Shantum.
A sack of books — Chetan Bhagat’s One Indian Girl one of them — a computer and a printer stood a on the table in front of the chair where she would sit.
“She had wished to donate her body and thus got a card three months ago,” Shantum said.
“Her’s was a whole body donation. Organ donation is usually done in brain dead patients (a person who has completely lost brain function and is kept alive using ventilator). All organs have to be harvested and transplanted within a stipulated time period otherwise the organs are not viable,” said Maj Gen NC Arora.
She launched her career by enrolling as an advocate in the Calcutta high court as well as the Supreme Court in 1959. It was after 20 years of legal practice that she finally became a judge of the Delhi high court.
Like her son Vikram, Justice Seth has written a number of books. Her first literal work was an autobiography, titled ‘On Balance’.
She later went on to author ‘We, the Children of India’ (2010), which explains the Constitution’s preamble to younger readers, and ‘Talking of Justice: People’s Rights in Modern India’ (2014), a work that discusses several critical issues she experienced during her legal career spanning 50 years.