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Landmark Mary Roy case & ‘questionable’ women’s right to property

  • Category
    Society
  • Published
    9th Sep, 2022

Context

Educator and women’s rights activist Mary Roy passed away recently. She was best known for the “Mary Roy” case, which ensured equal property rights for women from Kerala’s Syrian Christian families.

Background

  • It all started when Mary Roy was denied equal rights to her deceased father’s property.
    • As a result, she sued her brother, George Isaac, marking the beginning of a case that is seen as a milestone in ensuring gender justice in India.
  • The key question before the Supreme Court was whether, in territories that once formed part of the erstwhile Travancore state, matters of intestate (a person who has died without leaving a will) succession to the property of Indian Christian community members were governed by the Travancore Christian Succession Act 1917, or by the Indian Succession Act, 1925.

Travancore Succession Act:

  • This act says that thewomen belonging to the Syrian Christian community had no right to inherit property.
  • It stated that a daughter shall not be entitled to succeed to the property of the intestate in the same share as the son but she will be entitled to one-fourth the value of the share of the son or Rs 5,000 whichever is less.
  • In the case of a widow, the Act only provided for maintenance that was “terminable at death or on remarriage”.

Verdict in the case:

  • The Supreme Court in its 1986 judgment upheld the supremacy of the Indian Succession Act, of 1925.
  • The Bench comprising Chief Justice of India P N Bhagwati and Justice R S Pathak ruled that in case the deceased parent has not left a will, the succession will be decided as per the Indian Succession Act, 1925 which will also apply to the Indian Christian Community in the erstwhile state of Travancore.
  • The verdict put an end to the socially-sanctioned practice in Syrian Christian families to deny women their rightful share in inheritance.

Hindu Succession Act, 1956

  • The Mitakshara school of Hindu law codified as the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 governed succession and inheritance of property but only recognized males as legal heirs.
  • It applied to everyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi, or Jew by religion. Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, and followers of Arya Samaj, and BrahmoSamaj, are also considered Hindus for this law.
  • In a Hindu Undivided Family, several legal heirs through generations can exist jointly.
  • Traditionally, only male descendants of a common ancestor along with their mothers, wives, and unmarried daughters are considered a joint Hindu family. The legal heirs hold the family property jointly.

Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005

  • The 1956 Act was amended in September 2005 and women were recognized as coparceners for property partitions arising from 2005. Coparcener is a person who shares equally with others in the inheritance of an undivided estate or in the rights to it.
  • Section 6 of the Act was amended to make a daughter of a coparcener also a coparcener by birth “in her own right in the same manner as the son”.
  • It also gave the daughter the same rights and liabilities “in the coparcenary property as she would have had if she had been a son”.
  • The law applies to ancestral property and to intestate succession in personal property, where succession happens as per law and not through a will.
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