Mary Roy, educator and champion of women’s rights, passes away

Mary Roy, mother of renowned writer Arundhati Roy, fought a 49-year-long legal battle to gain equal access to the property of her deceased father that led to a landmark Supreme Court judgement against the archaic Travencore Christian Succession Act of 1916

September 01, 2022 12:52 pm | Updated 02:46 pm IST - KOTTAYAM

Mary Roy

Mary Roy | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Mary Roy, an educator and a women's rights activist, on whose petition the Supreme court delivered the landmark judgment against the Travancore Christian Succession Act of 1916 to ensure Christian women an equal share in family property, died after a brief illness here on Thursday. She was 89 and is survived by two children, son Lalit Roy and daughter Arundhati Roy, renowned writer and activist who won the 1997 Man Booker prize.

Tumultous life

Born to a Syrian Christian family in 1933, Ms. Roy was the daughter of P.V. Isaac, an entomologist who had trained in England. Starting from Delhi, she had a cosmopolitan education and graduated from the Queen's Mary college in Chennai.

After her marriage broke down, Ms. Roy took to teaching to support the family and returned to Kottayam to start her own school `Corpus Christi' in 1961. Having presided over the school, which later changed its name to Pallikkoodam, for five decades, she stopped being an active part of the school management last year due to ill-health.

Pillar of gender justice

In 1960, Ms. Roy sued her brother George Isaac to gain equal access to the property of her deceased father. The battle, which lasted for 49 long years and was finally settled in favour of Mary Roy in 2009, stands as one of the pillars of gender justice in the country.

Till the apex court order, Christian women from the erstwhile Travancore state had been governed by the stifling provisions of the 1916 Travancore-Kochi Christian Succession Act, under which a daughter was eligible only for a quarter of the son's share or Rs 5,000, whichever was less, when the father died intestate. The widow, meanwhile, was entitled just to maintenance.

Although the Supreme Court had ruled the case in her favour as early as February 1986, it took another 23 years for her to get a final verdict – a decree from a Kottayam sub-court.

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