Mary Roy’s legacy will be her fight to ensure equal inheritance rights for Syrian Christian women, advancing gender justice

The renowned educator and activist, who died aged 89 this week, was the petitioner in a court case, Mary Roy against the state of Kerala, which has become a landmark in Indian legal history.

In 1986, when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, it cemented Roy’s role in pushing India down the path to greater gender equality.

It was anger at its value of being reduced to Rs 5,000 that propelled Mary Roy into her long and lonely battle for equal inheritance rights for Syrian Christian women in Kerala. The famous educator and activist, who died aged 89 this week, was the petitioner in a court case, Mary Roy v the State of Kerala, which became a landmark in Indian legal history and marked an important moment in the struggle for gender. justice in India.

Roy had a tumultuous life – she had come out of an unhappy marriage and raised her two children alone, and in an acrimonious battle fought her family in court for an equal share of the ancestral property. His courage and refusal to be bullied inspired the character of Ammu, the rebellious heart of his daughter Arundhati’s award-winning novel The God of Little Things. Later, Roy’s life saw some stability, especially with the success of his school, Pallikoodam, in his hometown of Kottayam.

While she came to be seen as a pillar of the Syrian-Catholic community, her path to this position was long and thorny. It was hard enough being a divorced, single-parent woman in a deeply conservative society: Roy’s isolation only deepened when in 1983 she filed a motion for an injunction in the Supreme Court, challenging the provisions of the Travancore Christian Succession Act of 1917, which had continued. to be applied to Syrian Christians after the former princely state became part of Kerala in 1956. According to the provisions of the law, if a man died intestate, any daughter he had would only be entitled to a quarter of the value of the inherited share. by the son or Rs 5,000, whichever is less. In 1986, when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, it cemented Roy’s role in pushing India down the path to greater gender equality.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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