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Saturday, March 26, 2011

First Indian Woman Chief Justice Of High Court

Justice LEILA SETH born in Lucknow in October 1930, she joined the Bar in 1959. When in India, she was a junior to Mr Ashoke Kumar Sen when Mr Sen used to practise during his absence from the central cabinet of India. She was the first woman to top the London Bar exams in 1958. She handled a large number of Tax matters (Income Tax, Sales Tax, Excise and Customs), Civil, Company and Criminal cases as also Matrimonial suits and writ petitions. In 1978, she was appointed as the first woman judge on the Delhi High Court. In 1991, she was appointed the Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh.

Justice Seth sat upon enquiry commissions which examined the effects of the serial Shaktiman on children, as well as the enquiry into the death of Rajan Pillai in police custody. She served on the Law Commission of India till 2000 and was responsible for the amendments to the Hindu Succession Act which gave equal rights to daughters in joint family property. Seth was at one point a junior of Ashoke Kumar Sen.

Leila Seth's autobiography, On Balance, was recently published by Penguin India. In this book, she talks about her early years of homelessness and struggle, her straying into law while in England with her husband Prem, and later practising in Patna, Calcutta and Delhi; and her happy marriage of over fifty years, including the experience of bringing up three remarkable children: writer Vikram Seth, peace activist Shantum and film-maker Aradhana.

Also dwelt upon are her views regarding corruption, discrimination and delay in the legal system; some judgments dealing with education and with inter-personal and constitutional law; and her experiences as a member of the 15th Law Commission. There are also delightful vignettes: Premo and her turning an old mansion into a splendid home in Patna, Vikram's writing of the novel A Suitable Boy, Shantum's ordination as a Buddhist teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh and Aradhana's marriage to Peter, an Austrian diplomat, and work as a documentary film director and production designer on films like Earth and Water.

Her autobiography On Balance, (Penguin/ Viking) released is dedicated to her husband and her two-year-old granddaughter Nandini. Notwithstanding her own formidable achievements and this excellent literary effort, Leila Seth is also the Suitable Boy Vikram Seth’s mother. 
" My children had chosen their path and they were happy wherever it would lead them. Yes I was worried for Vikram that he might end up as a penniless writer in some garage. But anyone who knows Vikram would vouch that if Suitable Boy had not been a success I am sure he would have been happy leading the life of a penniless writer," says she. 

Besides the family, the autobiography gives a detailed and informative account of the legal profession. It particularly provides insights into the gender bias and the excruciatingly slow-paced Indian courts and corruption in judiciary.In a field where females were rare, Leila Seth held her own refusing to do women’s cases and choosing to compete with her male colleagues taking up tax matters, constitutional law and criminal cases---often a sole woman judge among a gaggle of male judges. 

Leila Seth says she feels fulfilled after the birth of her grand-daughter Nandini (Shantum’s daughter) who is the bundle of joy for the entire household. However she believes the future has many more years and good things in store for her. But she won’t write a sequel because, as she says, " It is now left to Premo to fill in the blanks by writing an autobiography too. 

Vikram Seth has already prodded his father to write a few incidents of his life and has got his word that he would finish his memoirs for his mother’s 75th birthday. Prem Seth who started out as an office help in the Bata Manufacturing company in Ambala, stacking shoes and running errands, went on to become the Chairman of the company.But for the moment, the Seth family is looking forward to the publication of Vikram Seth’s latest book Two Lives ---a biography this time---which has fetched him the highest advance any Indian writer has ever got.


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