Saturday, September 10, 2011

Arundhati’s mother to donate ‘cursed money’

Mother of big case to donate hard-won inheritance

Landmark property rights order favouring Mary Roy executed after 24 years in Kerala

Mary Roy in Kottayam

Kottayam, Oct. 25: The spotlight on writer Arundhati Roy at a Delhi seminar on Thursday where she sat beside Kashmiri separatist Syed Ali Shah Geelani perhaps overshadowed a more historic event involving her mother down south in Kerala.

Just a day earlier, the 76-year-old Mary Roy, who had fought and won a landmark legal case on women’s property rights in India 24 years ago, finally saw the Supreme Court order executed in her own case.

The mother of Booker Prize-winner Arundhati, however, told The Telegraph she would donate the hard-won family share to charity.

Going by the market rate in Kottayam town, her 0.09 acres may now fetch Rs 1.8 crore. But to Mary Roy, the land — which is near Aymenem, the location for Arundhati’s novel The God of Small Things — is “cursed” property because it caused bitterness among siblings.

“Let it go to charity. Arundhati and my elder son, Lalit, would not want to enjoy it,” she said. Arundhati too had donated almost her entire Booker Prize money to charities, with parts of it going towards the Bhopal gas victims’ welfare.

Mary Roy had walked out on her now-deceased Bengali husband — a Calcuttan who later moved to the Northeast — with her two young children after he turned an alcoholic. Her battle for family property began in 1965 when she was asked to leave her Ooty home by her brothers shortly after their father’s death. Arundhati was then three and Lalit just a little older.

The brothers’ action was rooted in two laws — the Travancore Christian Succession Act 1916 and Cochin Succession Act 1921 — which restricted a Keralite Syrian Christian daughter’s property rights to a fourth of the son’s share or Rs 5,000, whichever was less.

The young mother went to court and, after a 21-year battle, got the Supreme Court to strike down the two laws in 1986 in what has come to be known as the “Mary Roy case” in Indian legal history.

The verdict brought all Christians in the country under the Indian Succession Act which gives equal property rights to sons and daughters, enabling thousands of Keralite Christian women to regain their share of property denied to them.

Yet Mary Roy’s wait for her own tiny piece of land continued for nearly a quarter century longer. When she approached the Kottayam sub-court seeking implementation of the apex court order, her brothers raised objections.

The case got entangled in issues such as her mother’s right to one-third of the property without alienating it. Mary Roy should have got the land after her mother’s death in the year 2000. But one of her brothers, who had sold a part of his share for Rs 5 crore, sought to prevent the partition by dragging her to Kerala High Court.

After the high court cleared the legal hurdles before Mary Roy, the principal sub-judge here ordered execution of the verdict last Wednesday and sent court officials to carry it out.

Last week, Mary Roy travelled to the site of the disputed family property. She stood there, cheered by a motley crowd, taking possession of her nine cents (100 cents make an acre) after pulling down dilapidated sheds with the help of an earthmover. It was a moment the ailing educator and rights campaigner had thought would never come in her lifetime.

“I am relieved that my long struggle for justice has yielded result. My battle was not for a piece of property alone but to ensure that women in this country enjoy the rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” Mary Roy had told PTI last week.

The campaigner in her is not done yet. She has commissioned Delhi-based advocate Anand Grover to petition the Supreme Court to get local bodies to implement the environment ministry rule that asks every citizen to dispose of his garbage responsibly. The issue has become a problem in Kerala, with rubbish strewn everywhere and posing a health risk.

Gulf times
Sunday,24 October, 2010,

By Ashraf Padanna/Kottayam, Kerala

The mother of Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy who won a five-decades-long fight for family property, says she does not want the ‘cursed money’ and will give it away in charity.

Mary Roy who won the case in the Supreme Court received possession of her share of land last week.

“My daughter (Arundhati) and son Lalit have told me they are not interested in it. Now the proceeds from the cursed property worth Rs18mn will go to charity,” Roy said. “We are glad that after nearly 50 years this saga of litigation has come to an end.”

Speaking to a group of reporters at her residence inside a 10-acre campus of the Pallikkodam School that she established on her own, Roy said she had given a power of attorney to her son to execute her decision.

“Neither me nor my elder sister Molly Joseph needs my father’s land. We have both been fighting for a principle - equality of women before the law,” she said. “Many other women got justice after the apex court verdict more than two decades back. I had to wait another 26 years.”

In 1965, Roy was told to get out of a cottage in Ootty which belonged to her father and where she lived with her small children Arundhati, 3, and Lalit, 5. At the time she was told that according to the Travancore Christian Succession Act (TCSA), “a daughter shall receive one-fourths the share of a son or Rs5,000 whichever is less.”

She was just back from Kolkatta after a failed marriage and struggling to take care of her children. She was able to retain the cottage, as the TCSA was not applicable in Tamil Nadu.

She then decided she would fight to get equal rights under the Indian Constitution and she would fight the humiliation heaped upon her and other women. A Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Supreme Court in 1984 and two years later the court passed the historic judgment.

All Indians are now governed by the Indian Succession Act which gives equal rights to sons and daughters.

After her father’s death her mother had right over all her husband’s property. She died in 2000 after which her brother George Isaac resorted to innumerable adjournments and appeals to the Kerala High Court to prevent the partition but to no avail.

The litigation came to an end last week when a civil court in Kottayam assigned the property to Roy.

Isaac sold the ancestral house and half the property for Rs50mn. The remaining half is divided between the two sisters and their late brother John’s wife who is a Canadian. “Today everyone should be happy. The land has now come into our possession with no further impediments,” Roy said.
Christian Law of Succession in India


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