Mary Roy vs State of Kerala

Published On: 10 October, 2023

Authored By: Shailaja Anil Pandey
University of Mumbai, Law Academy

Mary Roy vs State of Kerala


In Indian culture, gender inequality is a serious problem. Despite a constitution that provides equal rights for men and women, as well as decades of law, deep-rooted gender discrimination in India has a devastating impact on women’s lives. The patriarchal structure of Indian society contributes to the imbalance between men and women; as a result, women suffer a variety of issues, such as a lack of literacy or the inability to inherit their parents’ property. Mary Roy was the first woman to fight for her right to inherit her late father’s property.


Mary Roy was from the Syrian Christian community and was married to a Hindu man against her father’s wishes. When Mary Roy became a widow, she returned to her family and was tormented, ridiculed, and humiliated because her family wanted her to leave their father’s land in Ooty. Her brothers had hired some thugs who told her to leave or else they would use harsh and physical force against her. Mary Roy flatly refused because she didn’t have anywhere else to live with her two children. But her brothers were adamant that she leave because they claimed that the property belonged to them under the Travancore Succession Act of 1916 and that women were ineligible to claim property under the act, which stated that equal inheritance rights to children were not recognized and that a daughter was entitled to only one-fourth of a son’s share or Rs 5000, whichever was less, and that she was illegally residing and claiming the property. Mary Roy believed that her fundamental right to equality was being infringed under Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution, therefore she decided to take the case to court to get her right restored. The Travancore Succession Act of 1916, which regulated Travancore, was the cause of this disagreement. It was inferred by this legal act that there was no legislation granting succession to the Christian women who lived in that region before 1916. Mary Roy first brought a lawsuit against her brother George Isaac to get equal rights to succeed, but the lower court denied her plea. She then submitted a request to the Kerala High Court challenging the decision rendered against her at the lower court. The Kerala High Court decided in her favor on the matter. Nevertheless, even though she had won the case, her execution petition was nevertheless granted after 8 years of litigation, and she subsequently received control of the land. She was forbidden from staying with her family after moving into the cottage that belonged to her father since her brothers had begun to abuse her. In 1983, she decided to approach the Supreme Court by using her right to a constitutional remedy and filing a writ petition by Article 32 of the Constitution.


  1. If the provision related to the interstate succession act under the Travancore Succession Act of 1916 was violating the provisions of Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India.
  2. If part B of State Laws Act, 1951 after coming into force repealed the Travancore Christian Succession Act, 1916?
  3. If the old Travancore Cochin Succession Act 1902 govern and keep in mind the question of interstate succession in the Travancore area or will it be governed by the Indian Succession Act of 1925
  4. If the decision of Kerala high court was apt and valid and would therefore be applied retrospectively.


Indra Jaising and Kamini Jaiswal represented the petitioner Mary Roy before the Supreme Court. A two-judge panel presided over the case. P.N. Bhagwati, the Chief Justice of India, and Justice R.S. Pathak were the justices who rendered the decision. The court ruled that no personal law may take precedence over or be considered superior to the Indian Constitution. As a result, any act that diminishes the relevance or significance of a constitutional provision must be declared unlawful and not be enforced. As a result, it was determined that the Travancore Succession Act of 1916’s sections 16 and 19 could not be applied in the current situation since they infringed the right to equality outlined in Article 14 of the Indian Constitution due to its discriminating attitude towards women. Because of this, the Indian Succession Act of 1925, not the Travancore Succession Act of 1916, should govern succession in the Travancore area. Additionally, it was said that the Kerala High Court’s ruling in Mary Roy’s Favor, returning her ownership of her father’s land, would have a retroactive impact. The court affirmed that the widowed mother would receive 1/3 of her husband’s estate, along with 1/3 going to the daughter and 1/3 going to the brother. In terms of intestate succession, there was no distinction or discrimination made in perception between the boys and the girls. The court also ruled that if a man passes away intestate without any children or a widow, his property would pass first to his father and then, in the event of his absence, to his mother, brother, and sister, who will divide it equally. The court further ruled that no legislation or regulation should be created in a way that favors a particular religious group or section of the population. In India’s history, this decision represents a turning point since it empowers women to stand out for themselves and fight for their rights.


The patriarchal society became defensive and uneasy as a result of this ruling. This was a momentous move that pushed patriarchal and traditional cultures to think differently about women at every turn. This ruling also gave women the confidence to speak up more and fight for their rights when faced with prejudice. In addition, this verdict restored women’s equal rights by repealing antiquated legislation that discriminated against persons based on their gender. The situation of women who were prohibited from inheriting their fathers’ property has significantly improved as a result of this verdict. Mary Roy only spoke for herself in this court case, but her voice ultimately spoke for all the women who would have been impacted by this outdated statute. This decision sparked a significant rebellion among disgruntled women, and as a result, it became a turning point in the history of the law.

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