A 41-year-old Indian-origin Singaporean woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Tuesday for committing various acts of abuse against her domestic help for over 14 months, which eventually led to the latter's death, according to a report in Channel News Asia.
This is the longest prison sentence meted out in Singapore in a domestic help abuse case.
In February 2021, the convict, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, pleaded guilty to 28 charges, including culpable homicide, voluntarily causing grievous hurt by starvation, voluntarily causing hurt by a heated substance and wrongful restraint, according to Channel News Asia.
Gaiyathiri had hired Piang Ngaih Don, a 24-year-old Myanmar national, in May 2015 to work as her domestic help. However, over the course of about 14 months, Piang Ngaih Don was relentlessly abused by Gaiyathiri and her family.
According to the chargesheet filed against Gaiyathiri, Piang Ngaih Don used to be kicked, punched and beaten by her employer with objects such as a broom and a metal ladle.
Gaiyathiri had also lifted Piang up by her hair, shook her violently and pulled out a clump of her hair, even using an iron to burn her arm on one occasion, the chargesheet stated.
On July 26, 2016, Piang Ngaih Don died after being attacked by both Gaiyathiri and her mother, which led to a bone in her throat being fractured and irreversible brain damage.
Gaiyathiri was originally charged with murder but this was brought down to culpable homicide due to new evidence relating to her mental health. In April, her lawyer Joseph Chen sought a reduced charge for his client without life imprisonment.
Gaiyathiri's lawyer alleged that Piang Ngaih Don used to have poor hygiene practices, such as not washing her hands before touching cooking utensils. The treatment meted out to her was due to the health concerns of Gaiyathiri's children.
In the hearing on Tuesday, Chen appealed to the court to reduce his client's sentence to no more than eight to nine years on account that she was a first-time offender. He said Gaiyathiri had already been in remand for five years and a reduced sentence would allow her two children to grow up with their mother.
He also brought into account that his client had major depressive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and she also struggled to cope with her children's illnesses.
However, the Deputy Chief Prosecutor, Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir said given the severity of the offences, being a first-time offender carried no mitigating value.
The prosecution noted that most of the accused’s actions had no connection to Piang Ngaih Don's hygiene practices, “even to the most conspiratorial mind”.
Pronouncing the judgment, Justice See Kee Oon said the prosecution had painted a "shocking story of how the victim was abused, tortured, humiliated, starved and ultimately died at the hands of the accused."
"The prosecution's submissions are framed in forcefully emotive terms, but words cannot adequately describe the abject cruelty of the accused's appalling conduct," he said.
"This is undoubtedly among the worst cases of culpable homicide," Justice See said.
Gaiyathiri's husband Kevin Chelvam, a suspended police officer, also faces five charges linked to the case. Her mother, Prema Naraynasamy, also has pending charges.