Mary Roy is renowned for her groundbreaking battle for equal property rights for Syrian Christian women in Kerala. However, what truly defines her is not just her legal struggle, but the unwavering determination and independence with which she pursued it.
In 1964, at the age of 30, Mary Roy left her troubled marriage in Assam and returned to Kerala with her two young children, Lalit and Arundhati. With nowhere else to turn, she sought refuge in an unused cottage owned by her abusive father in Ooty. Soon after, her brother, mother, and even some individuals with ill intentions demanded that she vacate the premises.
Mary Roy wanted to fight back, but she faced ridicule and found no lawyer willing to take her case, as she recounted in the biography “Brick By Brick,” penned by her former student George Skaria. Undeterred, she patiently waited for 25 years, determined to amass the resources needed to proceed without concern for public opinion. In 1983, she made her move, traveling to Delhi and securing legal representation to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court against the Travancore Christian Succession Act. This act had limited daughters’ inheritance to one-quarter of a son’s share or a dowry of Rs 5,000, whichever was lesser.
Initially motivated by anger, Mary Roy succeeded in having the Act abolished in 1986. However, it wasn’t until 2010, more than five decades after her initial confrontation with her brother, that she finally received her rightful share of the property, which she promptly donated to charity. “I don’t need it,” she declared in a 2002 interview, “but I want to show the world that I can get what I want.”
Re-reported from the article originally published in The Print