Mary Roy V. The State Of Kerala 1986 Air 1011, 1986 Scr (1) 371


Mary Roy, an educator and human rights activist who is the mother of renowned writer Arundhati Roy. She is the woman who conducted the legal battle and the apex court ruled in 1986 that women had equal rights in their father’s property. This was a landmark judgment that persuaded the right of Christian women to enjoy equal property rights. In this particular case, the Supreme Court held that Christian women are entitled to have an equal share in their father’s property.


1)If the clause of the Travancore succession statute of 1916 related to the interstate succession violated the 1925 succession laws?

2)If part B of the State Laws Act of 1961 applied to Travancore?

3)Will the old Travancore Cochin Succession Act 1902 govern and maintain the matter of intestate succession in Travancore in mind, or will the Indian Succession Act of 1925 govern and keep the question of intestate succession in Travancore in mind?

4)If the Kerala high court’s verdict was appropriate and legal, would it be applied retroactively?


Under the Travancore Succession Act of 1916, women belonging to the Syrian Christian Community had no right to inherit property. The Indian Succession Act, of 1925 deals with two forms of succession. Testamentary Succession and Intestate Succession.Testamentary succession is applicable in cases where the deceased has left a will. Intestate succession laws under the Indian Succession Act are different for different religions. Hindus, Muslims and Christians have different laws of succession in absence of a Will. The Travancore Succession Act 1916 violated the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 of the Indian constitution because of its discriminatory nature towards women and therefore it cannot be made applicable in the current case. Chapter 2 of part V of the Indian succession act, 1925 was to be implied over the intestate succession even in that area.  


Mary Roy sued her brother George Issac in 1960 to gain equal access to the property of her deceased father P.V. Issac. Mrs. Mary was a widow she was harassed and humiliated by her brothers for evacuating her father’s cottage. The battle lasted for 39 long years and finally settled in favor of Mary Roy in 2009  The brothers had hired goons for this purpose who threatened her to evacuate that place as soon as possible otherwise they will use physical force against her. Mrs. Mary Roy refused to do so as she did not have any other place to go.But her brothers kept on insisting her to evacuate as they claimed to be their property and that she did not had any claim over it under the Travancore Succession Act of 1916 and that she was under illegal possession of that place. Mrs. Mary Roy believed that her constitutional right to equality was being violated and therefore she was determined to take resort to the court to restore her right.The reason for the dispute was that Travancore area was governed by Travancore Christian Succession law of 1916. This law was enacted because there was no law providing for succession in Christians belonging to that area before 1916. The battle lasted for 39 long years and finally settled in favor of Mary Roy in 2009.   


No personal law can be held above the Constitution of India and therefore if any act even if applicable in an area is ultra vires the provisions of the constitution, such provision shall be held void and therefore will not be made applicable. It was also held that the Kerala High Court’s judgment in favour of Mrs Mary Roy reinstating her possession over the said property was also held to have retrospective effect.The court, therefore, laid down that the widowed mother will receive 1/3rd of the property of her deceased husband, 1/3rd shall be taken by Mrs. Mary Roy and the remaining 1/3rd by her brother. So there was held to be no distinction to be made between the daughters and sons in the matters of intestate succession and they shall take the share equally. As obiter dicta, the court also held that in case a man dies intestate and has no children or the widow, her property will be first taken by his father, and in case of absence of his father as well, his mother, brothers and sisters will take the share equally. Ms Mary received justice due to the court’s consideration of two crucial Articles of the Indian Constitution, namely, Article 14 and Article 15, which deal with the right to equality and the right against discrimination, respectively. 

Cases Referred –

1)P.C. Cheriyan vs Agricultural Income-Tax Officer 1997 226 ITR 813 Ker

2)Smt. Ranjana Prashant Rathi vs The State Of Maharashtra on 27 September, 1996 (1997) 99 BOMLR 284

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