Women in India Want their Fair Share of Inheritance

By Shwetha E. George, Womens Feature Service

Mary Roy is a rebel, an activist and a teacher. Her life is proof enough of her never-say-die attitude.

Roy fought against an archaic inheritance law and ensured the historic Supreme Court verdict that changed the lives of Syrian Christian women in India. The women are not given equal rights to their parents’ property.

But even after campaigning for women’s rights for close to three decades, Roy’s zeal to bring forth change never fades. She is going to the Supreme Court again. She is getting ready to file the “Justice and Human Rights for Citizens living in the Periphery of Garbage Dumps” petition.

The Kottayam sub-court over-ruled all the legal objections raised by her brothers since 2000. Finally the court granted her possession of the family property on TB Road in the city last October 20, 2010.

“I am sitting on 10 acres now,” she says, speaking at her home in the Pallikoodam school campus.

Roy recounts her tough journey to get what was rightfully hers. As a single mother of two school-going children, Roy was asked to “get out” of her deceased father’s cottage in Ooty. When she sought legal advice, the law according to the Travancore Christian Succession Act stated that a daughter shall receive 1/4th the share of a son or Rs 5,000 (US$1=Rs 44.3) whichever is less.

She filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court. The apex court struck down the Travancore Christian Succession Act. It upheld the Indian Succession Act by which equal inheritance rights are granted to sons and daughters in the event of the father dying tate.

But the battle was far from over. Acording to Roy her my mother was still alive which gave her mother the right over all her husband’s property until her death. But when her mother died in 2000, her brother resorted to appeal to Kerala High Court to prevent partition.

Women’s right to inheritance has been a contentious issue and Roy knows that it is not easy to change mindsets. In fact, she admits to the fact that even today she meets many women who actually prefer to take their dowries at the time of marriage instead of their inheritance in property.

Roy recalls the cases of two women who had joined her legal battle at the SC against the Travancore Christian Succession Act. One was a single woman who died before the verdict was pronounced. The other woman was nurse named Aleykutty. The nurse won the case for herself and for her daughters against her son.

Roy is definitely doing her bit by imparting quality education to girls in her Pallikoodam school. Roy’s vision doesn’t exclude the boys enrolled in her school. According to her the boys will not be alcoholic, wife-beating and dowry-expecting men in the future.

Roy’s school is gender-equal. Art teachers, athletic coaches, playwrights and special educators teach in Pallikoodam nowadays.

Roy is now gearing up for another long-drawn legal battle against the local bodies over the issue of garbage dumps. She hasn’t filed her case yet. She is now 77 years old now. But one thing is for sure, Roy will certainly try hard to succeed in her latest cause. As they say, you can’t stop a good woman to fight a good cause.