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India has been a patriarchal society where women have faced various challenges in exercising equal rights to that men. Gender Inequality was prevalent in India as a result women faced hurdles in every sphere of life and did not live a dignified life due to the discrimination against them. But over the years, there has been a gradual change in the approach of women towards society. They have fought for their rights and ensured that they get an equal status to men. One such activist was Mary Roy who fought against her family to get an equal share in the ancestral property. It took her 39 long years to settle the dispute when the Supreme Court of India in 1986 ruled in her favour. This was for the first time that a woman challenged the unjust inheritance rights and fought to the extent that it became a landmark victory for women in the country.  


Mary Roy belonged to the Syrian Christian community and was married to a Bengali man against her family’s wishes. She divorced her husband at 30 when she came to know that he was an alcoholic. Thereafter she decided to move to her father’s cottage in Ooty where she had decided to raise her two children. After the death of her father who died intestate, one of her brothers in need of money wanted to sell the property in Ooty to which Roy protested stating that he had no other place to live. She was told that she has no claim over the Ooty property as it comes under the Travancore Christian Succession Act of 1916 which applied to Christians residing in the Travancore area and that she was not eligible for any claim of property under the act. Under this Act, equal inheritance rights to children were not recognized and a daughter was entitled to only one-fourth of the share of a son or Rs 5,000 whichever was less when the father died intestate. Moreover, the intestacy was not given if the daughter has received Streedhanam. Mary Roy saw this as a violation of her right to equality guaranteed under Articles 14[2] and 15[3] of the Constitution of India and decided to knock the doors of justice.

Roy filed a suit against her brother George Isaac in the lower court in 1960, but it was denied after which she appealed in the Madras High Court against the order of the lower court. The verdict came in her favour, and the High Court directed that the property in Ooty be handed over to Mary Roy by her family, as Ooty which is in Tamil Nadu came under was governed by the Indian Christian Succession Act of 1925, which gave equal inheritance rights to all the children. After some years when Mary Roy decided to move back to her ancestral house in Kerela but was not allowed to stay with her family. Thus, she decided to take the issue to the Supreme Court and fight for her rights. She approached the court in 1983 by exercising her right to constitutional remedy and filed a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution.[4]


  • Whether the provisions of intestate succession in the Travancore Christian Succession Act of 1092 violative of Articles 14[5] and 15[6] of the Constitution of India?
  • Whether Part B State (Laws) Act, 1951 after coming into force repealed the Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1916?
  • Whether the members of the Indian Christian Community in Travancore, in matters of intestate succession, governed by the Travancore Succession Act of 1092 or the Indian Succession Act of 1925?


The petitioner Mary Roy was represented by Indira Jaising and Kamini Jaiswal in the Supreme Court. The case was presided over by a two-judge bench. The judges who gave the judgement were Chief Justice of India P.N. Bhagwati and Justice R.S. Pathak. The court held that Sections 16[7] and 19[8] of the Travancore Succession Act of 1092 were discriminatory against women by not providing them an equal share in the property of the intestate and were declared unconstitutional and void of being violative of Articles 14[9] and 15[10] of the Constitution of India. It also held that the Travancore Succession Act of 1092 was repealed after the Part B States (Laws) Act of 1951 came into force. It held that the Indian Succession Act of 1925 has a much wider scope as compared to any region-specific succession law, thus, ISA, 1925 applied to the Travancore area over TCSA, 1092. The court observed that “the consequential effect of the extension of the Indian Succession Act, 1925 to the territories of the former State of Travancore by virtue of Part-B States (Law) Act, 1951, it is not necessary to examine this challenge to the constitutional validity of the rules laid down in the Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1092 and we do not, therefore, propose to refer to them in detail, as that would be a futile exercise and would unnecessarily burden the judgment.”[11] The apex court did not examine the issue of discrimination but went on to deal with the legal technicality in the case. The court gave a general law on intestate succession by repealing the discriminatory act and declared the right to property as an equal right for both men and women. Additionally, the court opined the property share that will be given to the legal heirs if in case a man dies intestate.[12]


Even after the ruling of the Supreme Court in favour of Mary Roy, her suffering didn’t come to an end. In 1989, Mary Roy filed a case in the Kottayam District Court for her share in her father’s intestate property which was dismissed by stating that partition was not possible till her mother was alive. All the rights had fallen on her mother after her father’s death. It also stated that she was given the property in Ooty by her family, thus she did not have any claim on the property. After the death of her mother in 2000, Mary Roy again approached the District Court for a final decree where the case was stretched for a long period and finally in 2009 she received her share of the property which she donated to charity.[13]


When Mary Roy opposed the discriminatory act, women of her community had not heard about this archaic act, even when they learnt of it, they were afraid to challenge the status quo as they were brainwashed by their husbands. But Mary was not a quitter, she fought alone and got her share in her father’s property. The Supreme Court held that the TCSA law stood repealed with retrospective effect from 1951, and that intestate succession will now be governed by the Indian Succession Act, of 1925. The court, in this case, gave emphasis on deciding the law that was applicable to the Christian Community in Travancore, but it did not decide on the issue of the rights of women in succession. It should have first declared TCSA unconstitutional on the touchstone of equality and then repealed it with a prospective effect. It missed a golden opportunity of adjudicating gender justice by promoting gender equality in this case instead, tried to strike a balance between personal laws and equality.


The agonizing journey that began in 1960 finally ended in 2010. After fighting for over four decades, Mary Roy finally got her equal share of her father’s property. She fought not just for her rights in her father’s property but for all the Christian women who were denied their right to property. Mary Roy became the voice for millions of unheard women who never got their right to property under the male dominant society, therefore, the case came to be known as the ‘Mary Roy Case’. The other side of the judgment is that the case was decided only on the grounds of technicality instead of a combination of both rights and technicality. It missed an opportunity of establishing equality by not looking into the challenges that were made on the constitutionality of the rules. In such cases, it seems that respect for personal laws outweighs equality.

Author(s) Name: Roshan Abhiman Mohod (Government Law College, Mumbai)


[1] Mary Roy v State of Kerela & Ors. (1986) AIR 1011

[2] Constitution of India 1950, art 14

[3] Constitution of India 1950, art 15

[4] Constitution of India, 1950, art 32

[5] Constitution of India 1950, art 14

[6] Constitution of India 1950, art 15

[7] Travancore Succession Act 1092, s 16

[8] Travancore Succession Act 1092, s 19

[9] Constitution of India 1950, art 14

[10] Constitution of India 1950, art 15

[11] Mrs. Mary Roy v State of Kerela & Ors., (1986) AIR 1011

[12]‘Landmark Supreme Court Judgement – Mary Roy v. The State of Kerela’ (Lawnn, 20 December 2018) < > accessed 06 November, 2022

[13] Ayyappan R, ‘Why Mary Roy sued her family and what it did to Syrian Christians’(ONmanorama, 22 September 2022) <> accessed 06 November, 2022