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Mrs. Mary Roy vs. the State of Kerala

Case Summary: Mrs. Mary Roy vs. the State of Kerala

Equivalent Citation: 1986 AIR 1011, 1986 SCR (1) 371


This case is one of the landmark decisions taken by the Honorable Supreme Court of India. It deals with giving a Christian woman the inheritance law rights of their parents. It was upheld for the first time and overturned by the Travancore Succession Act of 1916, which applied to the Travancore region of Kerala.

Before July 1949, the State of Travancore was a princely state, and the law that applied to its borders regarding the succession was the ‘Travancore Christian Succession Act of the Kollan era. Then the former State of Travancore merged with the former state of Cochin to form a part of Travancore-Cochin. 

In what has become known in Indian legal history as the “Mary Roy case,” named after Mary Roy, an educator and human rights activist who is the mother of renowned writer Arundhati Roy. She had put a petition before the Supreme Court for gender equality in inheritance. She is the woman who conducted the legal battle and the apex court ruled in 1986 that women members of the community had equal rights in their father’s property.

Facts of the Case:

  1. In the given case, Mary Roy was a widow and her husband had left to his heavenly abode. Mrs. Mary was tormented, harassed, and humiliated by her family members. This was done because they wanted her to evacuate their father’s property.
  1. The brothers of Mrs. Mary wanted the property by hook or crook. They even employed some thugs who threatened her that they will use harsh and bodily force against her unless she evacuated the premises.
  1. But Mrs. Mary Roy being a strong woman flatly refused to do so, even though that she had nowhere else to live. Her brothers, on the other hand, were adamant that she had to leave the place as they claimed that the property was theirs under the Travancore Succession Act of 1916 and that she was illegally remaining and claiming the property as hers.
  1. Mary Roy believed her fundamental principle of equality was being infringed, so she decided to bring the case to trial to have it restored.
  1. As mentioned in the Introduction, Travancore was earlier governed by the Travancore Succession Act of 1916, which was the source of the conflict. This statute implied that there was no law in place before 1916 that allowed for the succession of Christians living in the area.
  1. This law did not recognize successors’ coparcenary rights to the property; instead, it solely acknowledged property acquisition by inheritance. Under Section 24 of the Act, a widowed mother would receive just a life interest in the property, and the daughters who had previously been given Stridhan would not be entitled to gain it.
  1. Mrs. Mary initially initiated a lawsuit against her brother George Isaac to get equal succession rights, but the lower court denied her request. She subsequently filed an appeal with the Kerala high court, challenging the lower court’s decision. Her application to the Kerala high court was granted.
  1. Even after winning the lawsuit, her execution petition was granted to her after 8 years of battling the matter, and she was given control of the property. After that, she moved into her father’s cottage, but her brothers again began to pester her in the above-mentioned manner.
  1. Mrs. Mary then chose to take her case to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India to continue her fight against her brothers. She contested a section of the Travancore succession law, which was enacted in 1916. Invoking constitutional remedies under Article 32 of the Indian constitution, Mary Roy filed a petition at the Supreme Court of India.
See also  Case Brief |Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India

Issues Raised:

  1. If the clause of the Travancore succession statute of 1916 related to the interstate succession violated of 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, it would be applied retroactively?

Contention Raised:

By Petitioner:

The petitioners argued that these laws discriminated against women by stating, among other things, that a widow or mother becoming responsible under sections 16,17,21, and 22 will have only a life interest in the intestate’s immovable property, which will terminate upon death or remarriage. It stated that why a daughter is not given the same value as a son and only given 1/4th as that of a son. This is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

By Respondent:

The respondent had correctly noted that the legislation was developed in the past and that repealing it would be a blow to many people’s customs and values. They further maintained that since the statutes were enacted, they were unconstitutional. The petitioner was chastised by the respondent(s), who believed she was breaking the norm and on the verge of becoming too independent and modern. They believed she was purposefully challenging society’s traditional nature.


  1. The court ruled that ‘No Personal Law’ can be prioritized or held above the Indian Constitution and that any conduct in an area that invalidates the relevance and importance of the constitution’s provisions will be declared illegal and inapplicable.
  1. As a result, it was determined that the Travancore Succession Act 1916 provision governing the succession mentioned in the case violated the ‘Right to Equality’ granted under Article 14 of the Indian constitution due to its discriminatory nature toward women, and so could not be applied in the current case. And even in that area, Chapter 2 of Part V of the Indian Succession Act of 1925 was to be implied over intestate succession.
  1. As a result, the law governing succession in the Travancore region will be the Indian Succession Act 1925, rather than the Travancore Succession Act 1916.
  1. The judgement was ruled ‘In Favour’ of Mrs. Mary returning the possession of her father’s ancestral property. 
  1. The court determined that the bereaved mother would receive 1/3rd of her husband’s property, 1/3rd to the daughter, and the remaining 1/3rd to the brother. To me, there was no difference or discrimination.
  1. The court also decided that if a man dies intestate without children or a widow, his property will first go to his father, and if he is not there, it will go to his mother, brother, and sister, who will divide it equally among themselves. The court further stated that no law or provision should be made to benefit a religious sect or a segment of the community.
  1. This decision is a watershed moment in Indian history since it empowers women to speak out and defend their rights. This was a landmark moment in human history, challenging patriarchal and traditional society at every turn and forcing people to reassess their attitudes about women. As a result of this decision, women have become more outspoken and willing to fight for their rights in the face of prejudice.
  1. This decision has made a big difference in the lives of women who were previously denied the right to inherit their fathers’ property. Although Mrs. Mary Roy was just speaking for herself in this case, her voice ended up speaking for all the women who had been affected by this antiquated statute.
  1. This decision sparked a massive rebellion among dissatisfied women, and so therefore came to be known as a landmark decision.


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