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Mary Roy case in SC: Equal property rights for women

  • Published
    2nd Sep, 2022

A celebrated champion of gender equality and a renowned educator, Mary Roy passed away recently.


Mary Roy:

  • Mary Roy was the mother of Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy.
  • Mary Roy was a passionate advocate for women’s rights and the founder of the Pallikoodam School in Kottayam, Kerala.
  • She best known for the “Mary Roy” case, the prolonged legal battle that ensured equal property rights for women from Kerala’s Syrian Christian families.

Mary Roy Case:

  • Mary Roy case is seen as a milestone in ensuring gender justice in India.
  • Mary Roy sued her brother, George Isaac in 1983 petition under Article 32 for being denied equal rights to her deceased father’s property.
  • Mary Roy mounted a legal challenge to the law after she was asked to leave her father’s Ooty cottage that she had returned to, along with her two children, after her divorce.
  • Question before SC: 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

  • Under the Travancore Succession Act, women belonging to the Syrian Christian community had no right to inherit property.
  • The Act, 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.”
  • Also, under the Act, even this amount was to be denied to the woman “if Streedhanom was provided or promised to her (daughter)”.
  • 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, 1925.
  • SC 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.
  • Although the Supreme Court had ruled the case in her favour as early as February 1986, it took another 25 years for her to get a final verdict – a decree from a Kottayam sub-court in 2009.
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