Mary Roy vs the State of Kerala
Writ Petition (Civil) 8260 of 1983
Date of judgment: 24-02-1986
In this law note, you will learn about the facts, issues, arguments, and judgment of Mary Roy vs the State of Kerala.
This case is a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court. It concerns granting Christian women equal inheritance rights. Mary Roy, a human rights activist and educator, petitioned the Supreme Court for gender equality in inheritance and similar rights to their parents’ property as sons.
Facts of the Case
Ms Mary Roy, a widow, was tortured and humiliated by her brothers on a regular basis. Her brothers insisted that she leave their father’s cottage, which they claimed as their own. The brothers also hired goons to threaten her with physical violence if she did not leave the area.
Ms Mary Roy had no claim to their father’s property under the Travancore Succession Act of 1916, and she was also in illegal possession of his cottage, according to her brothers.
Ms Mary Roy refused to leave immediately because she had nowhere else to go. Ms Mary Roy also claimed that this violated her constitutional right to equality. As a result, she resolved to fight for her rights.
Ms Roy sued her brother, George Issac, in a lower court to obtain equal rights to her deceased father’s property. However, the lower court denied the equal right of succession. Ms Roy was adamant, so she appealed the lower court’s judgement to the Kerala High Court, where the case was resolved in her favour.
However, her petition was only approved after Ms Mary had fought the issue for eight years, and she was only granted possession of the property. Her brother, on the other hand, continued to harass her. Ms Mary resolved to take her struggle against her brother’s wrongdoings to the Supreme Court of India.
Ms Roy filed a writ petition to challenge the provisions of the Travancore Christian Succession Law of 1916 to the constitutional remedies provided under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.
Issues Raised in Mary Roy vs the State of Kerala
There were three major issues raised in this case:
- Whether the provisions of the Travancore Succession Act of 1916, relating to intestate succession, violate the Hindu Succession Act of 1925.
- Will the Hindu Succession Act of 1925 or the earlier Travancore Christian Succession Act of 1092 regulate the matter of intestate in the Travancore area?
- Was Kerala’s High Court ruling legal, and will it be implemented retrospectively?
Arguments in the Mary Roy Case
These were the arguments advanced by both the petitioner and the respondent.
Arguments Given by the Petitioner
The petitioner contended that the laws were discriminatory because the daughter was not given the same value as the son and only a quarter of what the son received. It eventually violated the petitioner’s Fundamental Rights, enshrined in Article 14 and Article 15 of the Indian Constitution.
Arguments Given by the Respondent
The respondent contended that these laws were enacted in the past and that abolishing them would impact people’s beliefs and customs. The respondent further claimed that the petitioner deliberately disrupted society’s norms to become more modern and independent.
Judgement of Mary Roy vs the State of Kerala
The court ruled that no personal laws can supersede India’s Constitution and that any parts of personal law that contravene the Constitution will be declared unconstitutional and unenforceable.
As a result, the provisions of the Travancore Succession Act of 1916 violated Ms Mary’s right to equality, which the Constitution protected under Article 14. Also, they led to gender bias under Article 15 of the Indian Constitution. As a result, the provisions of the Travancore Succession Act of 1916 were declared null and void and could not be used in the case. And the Indian Succession Act of 1925 will supersede the Travancore Succession Act of 1916.
The Supreme Court also ruled that the Kerala High Court’s decision in Ms Mary’s favour would be retrospective. As a result, Ms Roy received a 1/3rd portion of the land.
Ms Mary received justice due to the court’s consideration of two crucial Articles of the Indian Constitution, namely, Article 14 and Article 15, which deal with the right to equality and the right against discrimination, respectively.
The court again demonstrated that the Constitution is the ultimate law of the land by dismissing all personal laws in this case and stating that no personal law can be enforced above the Indian Constitution.
It makes me question the uniformity of our laws, as stated in Article 44 of the Indian Constitution, which mandates that the state must endeavour to guarantee that citizens throughout India have access to a Uniform Civil Code.
Suggestions and Recommendations
Even though it took the court forty years to bring justice to Ms Mary, the wait was well worth it because she was ultimately awarded an equal share of her father’s property. Moreover, the court’s decision was correct because it considered the Indian Constitution’s significant Articles and preserved Ms Mary’s core Fundamental Rights.