Case analysis of Mary Roy v State of Kerala:

Author: Annliya Anil

A student at The School of Excellence in Law, 

Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University.

India has always been a patriarchal nation where women have struggled to exercise their equal rights alongside males. Because of the pervasive gender inequality in India, women had to overcome obstacles in many areas of their lives and were denied the right to live dignified lives. However, women’s attitudes about society have gradually changed over time. They have ensured they receive the same status as men by fighting for their rights. Mary Roy was one such activist who battled her family to win an equal portion of the familial estate. She had to wait 39 long years for the matter to be resolved before the Indian Supreme Court decided in her favor in 1986. This was the first instance of a woman fighting against unfair inheritance rights and going so far as to make it a historic win for women in the nation.

The ruling supported the repeal of the discriminatory Travancore and Cochin Succession Acts. It upheld the provisions of the Part-B States Act, the main goal of which was to extend the Indian Succession Act’s application to the territory covered by the Acts. There was also a lot of criticism directed towards the judgment. In light of this, the Supreme Court’s decision provided Christian women with much-needed help and encouragement in obtaining their rights regarding intestate succession. Thinking back to the rule mentioned above, it is significant to remember that it applied to the majority of the people, the Syrian Christian community. 

This act was intended to define and mark Kerala’s succession law; nevertheless, its meaning was altered when the Christian community’s religion shifted. The act effectively codified the laws and guidelines that the king had established regarding the interstate succession scenario. This sparked discussion about the legislation’s discriminatory nature, its antiquated and outdated clauses, and the exclusion of certain customs. Due to the discriminatory nature of this particular statute, it became necessary to examine its provisions, raising issues such as its antiquated and unjust nature as well as the need for laws of such a narrowly construed type. The Mary Roy case ruling added gasoline to the controversy. Remembering that Christianity arrived in India in the early ages of the Christian era is crucial. Moses enacted several ordinances, ostensibly for the benefit of the Christians in the Travancore and Cochin territories. As a result, there were no clear-cut laws and many decisions were made on a case-by-case basis, depending heavily on the discernment and wisdom of the judges. The Travancore Succession Act, of 1912 and the Laws of Moses shared several similarities. For instance, women who were not married were prohibited from obtaining or possessing any kind of property, and men were the only ones with the ability to inherit. It’s interesting to note that the ladies received trichina at the time of their marriage. This came in the shape of gifts, possessions, etc. This law has drawn criticism for its incapacity to advance the spread of Kerala’s already progressive societies. The antiquated laws established by the forefathers were contested in this instance. 

  1. Facts of the case:

Mary Roy, a member of the Syrian Christian community, married a Bengali guy defying the desires of her family. When she discovered her spouse was an alcoholic, she filed for divorce at the age of thirty. After that, she decided to raise her two children in her father’s Ooty home. Roy objected, saying he had nowhere else to live, to her brother’s request to sell the Ooty property after her father passed away intestate because he needed the money. It was informed to her that the Ooty property was owned by Christians living in the Travancore area and that she was not entitled to any property claims under the Travancore Christian Succession Act of 1916. When a father passed away intestate, a daughter was only entitled to one-fourth of a son’s share or Rs 5,000, whichever was less, under this Act, which did not recognize equal inheritance rights for children. Furthermore, if the daughter had obtained Streedhanam, the intestacy would not have been granted. Mary Roy chose to knock on the doors of justice because she believed that this was a breach of her right to equality as protected by Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution.

In 1960, Roy filed a lawsuit against her brother George Isaac in the lower court. When the suit was dismissed, Roy challenged the lower court’s decision in the Madras High Court. After finding in her favor, the High Court ordered that Mary Roy’s family transfer the Ooty property to her. Ooty, which is in Tamil Nadu, was controlled by the Indian Christian Succession Act of 1925, which granted all children equal inheritance rights. Mary Roy was not permitted to live with her family when she made the decision a few years later to return to her ancestral home in Kerela. She decided to fight for her rights by taking the case to the Supreme Court. In 1983, she filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution, exercising her right to a constitutional remedy, and went before the court.

  1. Issues of the case:
  • Are Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution violated by the intestate succession provisions of the Travancore Christian Succession Act of 1092?
  • Whether the Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1916 repealed after it came into effect by the Part B State (Laws) Act, 1951?
  • Which of the two intestate succession laws—the Indian Succession Act of 1925 or the Travancore Succession Act of 1092—applies to the members of the Indian Christian Community in Travancore?
  1. Decision:

In the Supreme Court, Indira Jaising and Kamini Jaiswal represented petitioner Mary Roy. A bench of two judges oversaw the case. Chief Justice of India P.N. Bhagwati and Judge R.S. Pathak delivered the decision. The Travancore Succession Act of 1092’s Sections 16  and 19 were ruled unconstitutional by the court because they discriminated against women by denying them an equal share in the intestate’s property. These sections also violated Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution. It further concluded that following the enactment of the Part B States (Laws) Act of 1951, the Travancore Succession Act of 1092 was repealed. It was decided that the Indian Succession Act of 1925 covered a larger territory than any region-specific succession law, meaning that it superseded TCSA, 1092 in the Travancore area. The Indian Succession Act, of 1925 was extended to the territories of the former State of Travancore by the Part-B States (Law) Act, 1951. The court noted that this had the consequential effect of making it unnecessary to examine the constitutional validity of the rules outlined in the Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1092, and therefore, they do not propose to be referred to in detail, as that would be a pointless exercise and unduly burden the judgment. The Supreme Court handled the case’s legal technicality instead of looking into the discrimination issue. The court proclaimed the right to property as an equal right for men and women, overturning the discriminatory legislation and establishing a comprehensive law on intestate succession. The property split that will be awarded to the rightful heirs if a man passes away intestate was also decided by the court.

  1. After the verdict:

Even after Mary Roy was granted a favorable verdict by the Supreme Court, her suffering persisted. Mary Roy claimed her portion of her father’s intestate property in the Kottayam District Court in 1989. The claim was dismissed because partition could not occur while her mother was still living. Following her father’s passing, her mother was granted all rights. It further said that she had no claim to the Ooty property because her family had handed it to her. After her mother passed away in 2000, Mary Roy went before the District Court once more in an attempt to get a final decree. The lawsuit took a long time, and in 2009, she eventually acquired her portion of the property, which she had given to charity.

  1. Analysis:

The women in Mary Roy’s village were brainwashed by their husbands to the point where they were unaware of the discriminating conduct and, even when they did, they were scared to question the status quo. Mary, however, would not back down; she battled on her own and won her rightful portion of her father’s estate. According to the Supreme Court, the Indian Succession Act of 1925 will henceforth control intestate succession and the TCSA statute was repealed with retrospective effect starting in 1951. In this instance, the court focused on determining the laws that applied to the Christian community in Travancore; nevertheless, it did not decide the succession rights of women. It ought to have revoked TCSA with immediate effect after ruling it unconstitutional based on the equality standard. It attempted to create a compromise between equality and personal laws, missing a great chance to decide on gender justice in this instance by advocating for gender equality.

  1. Conclusion:

Mary Roy ultimately received her fair portion of her father’s estate after more than 40 years of struggle. She battled for all Christian women who were denied the right to own property, not only for her rights on her father’s land. The case became known as the “Mary Roy Case” because Mary Roy became the voice for millions of silent women who were denied their right to property under the patriarchal culture. The other aspect of the ruling is that, rather than considering both the case’s merits and its technicalities, the decision was made only based on technicalities. The court further decided as obiter dicta that if a man dies intestate and leaves no widow or children, his father will inherit the property first. If his father is not there, his mother, brothers, and sisters will each receive an equal portion. The court’s assessment of two important Articles of the Indian Constitution—Articles 14 and 15, which address the right to equality and the right against discrimination, respectively—meant that Ms. Mary was granted justice. 

Case analysis of Mary Roy v State of Kerala:

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