Mrs. Mary Roy vs State of Kerala

Mrs. Mary Roy vs State of Kerala
In Supreme Court of India
1986 AIR 1011

Mrs. Mary Roy
State of Kerala
Date of Judgement
2 July 2009
Chief Justice P.N Bhagwati


The judgment that we will discuss today encouraged a repeal of the Cochin and Travancore Succession Acts and vindicated the contents of Part-B states act, whose lead aim was to prolong the application of the Indian Succession Act to the area which was looked over by the discriminatory Travancore and Cochin Succession Acts. The judgement was subjected to a lot of criticism too.  Keeping that in mind, this particular judgement by the Supreme Court gave Christian ladiesmuch needed assistance and support in acquiring their rights related to intestate succession. Reminiscing the abovementioned law, it is important to note that this law was applicable to the Syrian Christian community which made up the main chunk of the population. This act was implied with a mindset to outline and mark the succession law in Kerala which before, the implication changed with change in the sect of the Christian community. The enactment essentially codified the rules and regulations laid down by the king pertaining the situation of interstate succession, which started a debate concerning the differential nature, the ancient and archaic provisions, and the exclusion of various practices. The discriminatory nature of this specific law led to the needfor an interrogation of the provisions of law, with questions pertaining the unjust and ancient nature of the law and the want of such laws with a very narrow-minded interpretation. The debate was further fueled by the judgment of the Mary Roy case. It is important to keep in mind that Christianity came to India during the earlier times of the Christian era. Moses made some laws, apparently for the Christians of the regions of Cochin and Travancore. This meant that there were no solid or uniform laws and many of the decisions were taken on the case to case basis meaning that there was a dependence on the wisdom and insight of the judges. There were some similarcharacteristics between the Laws of Moses and the Travancore Succession Act, 1912 for example the right of inheritance was mainlylimited to men and single women were restricted from acquiring or holding property be it any type.Interestingly the women, at the time of their marriage were given trichina, which was given in the form of ornaments, property etc. this law has been criticized because of its inability to let the now progressive societies of Kerala to propagate further. This case challenged the archaic laws laid down by the ancestors.


1. In this case, Mary Roy a widow was harassed, insulted and humiliated because they wanted her to evacuate their father’s property.

2. Her brothers had hired some men who were goons who threatened her to evacuate the place or else they would use brute and physical force against her.

3. Mary Roy blatantly refused to do as she did not have any other place to go to reside in.

4. But her brothers were persistent and kept on insisting for her to evacuated the place as they claimed that the property belonged to them under the Travancore Succession Act of 1916 and that she was illegally residing and claiming the property as hers.

5. Mary Roy felt that that her constitutional right to equality was being violated and hence she decided to take this matter to the court so as to restore her right.

6. The reason for this dispute was that Travancore was governed by the Travancore Succession Act of 1916. This law act was implied that there was no law which provided succession to the Christians residing in that area before 1916.

7. This law did not recognize coparcenary rights of descendants in the property, it only recognized acquisition of the property through inheritance.

8. Under section 24 of this act the mother who would be a widow would only get life interest in the property and the daughters who had already been givenstridhan would not be able to acquire the property thereafter.

9. MaryRoy first filed a case against her brother George Isaac in order to get equal rights in succession but her request was dismissed by the lower court. She then filed an application in the Kerala high court against the judgment given to her in the lower court. Her application the Kerala high court was ruled in her favor.

10. But even after winning that case her execution petition to her was granted after 8 years of fighting the case, after that she got the possession of that property.

11. After she started residing in the cottage which belonged to her father her brothers started harassing her as mentioned above.

12. MaryRoy made a decision to continue her fight against her brothers and decided to move her case to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

13. She challenged the provision of the Travancore succession law of 1916.

14. Mary Roy filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India invoking constitutional remedies under Article 32 of the Indian constitution.

Issues Raised:

1. If the provision related to interstate succession act under Travancore succession act of 1916 was violating the provisions of succession Act, 1925

2. If part B of State Laws Act 1961 was applicable to Travancore act

3. If the old Travancore cochin succession Act 1902 govern and keep in mind the question of interstate succession in 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.

Contentions Raised:


1. The contention of the petitioners was that these rules discriminated against women by presenting that inter alia that as far as succession to the immovable property of the intestate is concerned, a widow or mother becoming responsible under sections 16,17,21 and 22 will have only life interest terminable at the death or on remarriage.

2. They stated that a daughter is not entitled to acquire the property of the deceased in the same share as the son.

3. Theywill onlybe entitled to 1/4th the value of the son or Rs 5000 or whatever is less and sometimes even this amount is not entitled to her.

4. They stated that it violated Article 14 of the Indian constitution

5. They also stated that had her gender been that of a male then she could have been able to possess her deceased father’s property.


1. The respondent had duly stated that the law was something that had been created in the olden times and so to do away with it would be like a kick to the traditions and the norms followed by many people.

2. They also stated that the laws that had been created in the past are important as a part of legacy and therefore not much can be done about it.

3. They also upheld that since the laws were created and added in the olden times, they cannot be at fault for it.

4. The respondent(s) criticized the petitioner as they felt that she was ‘breaking the mound’ and was on the way of becoming too ‘independent and modern’. They felt that the conservative nature of the society was deliberately being challenged by her.

Significance of the Judegement:

1. The court held that no personal law can be prioritized or held above the Constitution of India and hence if any act in an area invalidates the significance and importance of the provisions of the constitution then such a provision shall be held void and therefore must not be applicable.

2. Thus it was stated that the provision regarding the succession under 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.

3. Chapter 2 of part V of the Indian succession act, 1925 was to be implied over the intestate succession even in that area

4. Due to this reason the law implied in the region of Travancore regarding the succession shall ne Indian succession Act 1925 rather that Travancore Succession act 1916

5. It was also stated that the judgement of Kerala high court in favor of MaryRoy reinstating her possession over her father’s property would have a retrospective effect.

6. The court upheld that the widowed mother would receive 1/3rd of the property of her husband and 1/3rd shall be taken the daughter and the remaining 1/3rd would go to the brother. There was no distinction or discrimination to me made between the sons and the daughters in the matters of intestate succession.

7. The court also held that if a man dies intestate and he has no children or a widow then his property would first be devolved to his father and in his absence as well it would go to his mother, brother and sister who would share it equally amongst themselves.

8. The court also said that no law or provision should be made in such a way that it benefits a religious sect or a part of a community.

9. This judgement is a historic landmark in the history of india as it gives way to women for speaking out and protecting their rights.

10. This judgement made the patriarchal society defensive and insecure.

11. This was a historic step that challenged the patriarchal and conservative society at every step and made them reconsider their thinking towards women.

12. This judgement also made way for women to be more outspoken and fight for their rights in the face of discrimination.

13. This judgement also did away with archaic laws which discriminated against people on the basis of gender and restored equal rights forwomen.

14. This judgement has brought about a significant change in the condition of women who were excluded from inheriting their fathers’ property.

15. Although MaryRoy only spoke for herself in this judgement her voice ended up speaking for all the women that had beenwould have been affected by this archaic law.

16. This judgement started a big uprising amongst unsatisfied women and hence ended up as a landmark in the legal history.

Edited by Shuvneek Hayer

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje


Asmita Sahay
I’m a third year student at Amity Law School, Delhi pursuing BA.LLB. The subjects which fascinate me as an individual in law are family law, criminal law, labour law. In my free time i like to learn new recipes for cooking, solve riddles, watch Netflix and any show with crime as genre. I’m a very friendly person and moulds in any kind of environment.