A Tribute to the Life of Justice Leila Seth, By Her Son, Vikram

Justice Seth was the first woman chief justice of a high court and one of the members of the Justice Verma Committee, constituted after the December 2012 Delhi gangrape.

Justice Leila Seth passed away on May 5. Credit: Facebook/Law Power

Justice Leila Seth passed away on May 5. Credit: Facebook/Law Power

New Delhi: Recalling his mother’s life left author Vikram Seth in tears at a memorial held on Tuesday, May 30, for Justice Leila Seth, in what was a befitting tribute to a woman whose life and values continue to inspire people.

The novelist reminisced about his childhood and soon became so emotionally overwhelmed that he was even unable to read a poem he had dedicated to her.

Vikram, 64, who anchored the solemn event that was attended by several eminent personalities from all walks of life, maintained a somewhat calm disposition, but towards the closing, was left emotionally overwhelmed.

As he read out the first line of the poem All you who sleep tonight, he choked, even as he tried to retain his composure. But he choked again and was soon reduced to tears, even as a deathly silence prevailed in the room.

The poem, part of the collection, All You Who Sleep Tonight, composed by Vikram in 1990, was finally recited by his younger brother Shantum Seth.

“Mama (Justice Seth), as many of you have shared your thoughts, is not gone, she continues to be with us in spirit and she will continue to do so,” Vikram said earlier.

And as Shantum, sitting in the front row at the IIC Auditorium, read out the poem, Vikram sat at a piano on the stage, leaving many in the audience also teary-eyed.

Justice Seth died of a cardiac seizure at her Noida residence on May 5 at the age of 86. Before her death, she had pledged her eyes and her body for donation.

The memorial service was attended by Justice (retd) Rajindar Sachar, many Supreme Court lawyers including Vrinda Grover, noted musician Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, designer Ritu Kumar and a host of other eminent personalities, besides close friends and family members.

Executive director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Maja Daruwala, in her tribute, said, “This memorial should not be a closure…Rather it should be a beginning and she should continue to live on in each one of us, through the values that the she stood for.”

At the foyer of the hall, a portrait of the late Justice Seth was kept, alongside a pack of postcards bearing her image one one side and the poem All you who sleep tonight on the other.

Close family friend Tehmina Punwani, who attended the service, said, she “lived with the courage of her convictions” and set an example by her high standard of exemplary living. “And, she lives on.”

Justice Seth’s granddaughter Anamika also played a Bach piece on the piano while her elder sister Nandini read out a portion from Justice Seth’s autobiography On Balance.

Justice Seth was the first woman chief justice of a high court in the country.

The eminent jurist, much admired in the field of law and in other professions, championed sharper legislation for women.

She was one of the three members of the Justice Verma Committee which was constituted after the December 16, 2012 gangrape in Delhi for recommending legal amendments for quicker trials and enhanced punishments for criminals accused of committing sexual assaults against women.

Justice Seth had also authored Talking of Justice: People’s Rights in Modern India, published in 2014, which looked at critical issues that she had engaged with in a legal career spanning over 50 years.

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