S’porean woman gets 30 years’ jail for beating & starving Myanmar helper to death

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Gaiyathiri Murugayan, a 41-year-old housewife convicted of starving, torturing and killing her domestic worker Piang Ngaih Don, was sentenced to 30 years’ jail on June 22, the Straits Times reported.

Gaiyathiri pleaded guilty to 28 charges in February 2021, including culpable homicide, voluntarily causing grievous hurt by starvation, voluntarily causing hurt by a heated substance, and wrongful restraint.

Another 87 charges were considered in sentencing.

Months of abuse

Piang, who was 24 years old at the time of her death, started working for Gaiyathiri’s family in May 2015.

Over the next 10 months, she was subjected to horrific abuse. Gaiyathiri accused Piang of being too slow, eating too much, and being too “unhygienic”.

She was also made to live and work in horrible conditions — she had to shower with the door open, under the watch of Gaiyathiri or Prema Naraynasamy, the accused’s mother and also a co-accused whose case is pending.

Piang was only allowed to sleep for five hours a night, was made to wear multiple layers of face masks as Gaiyathiri found her dirty and did not want to look at her face.

Gaiyathiri would shout at Piang whenever her rules were broken, and by October 2015, this turned into physical abuse.

She was assaulted — slaps, pushing, punching, and kicking — almost daily, often several times a day.

Gaiyathiri was also seen stamping on a downed Piang, and attacking her employee with hard objects, such as a broom or a metal ladle.

Another occasion saw Gaiyathiri lift, pull, and shake the helper violently by her hair, ripping large clumps of it out in the process.

In June 2016, Gaiyathiri also burned Piang by pressing a hot iron into her forehead and her forearm.

Circumstances of Piang’s death

In the 12 days leading up to her death, the Myanmar national had her hands tied by a string to a window grille.

As detailed in the court documents, footage from security cameras showed that in the last 35 days of her life, Piang was starved.

The security cameras were set up by the accused’s husband, who is now divorced from Gaiyathiri.

Piang’s meals involved sliced bread soaked in water, cold food from the fridge, or some rice. In total, she lost 15kg during her 14 months of employment, which made up around 38 per cent of her body weight.

Piang was eventually killed after an assault lasting from the night of Jul. 25, 2016, to the morning of Jul. 26.

At the time of her death, Piang weighed only 24kg.

Court sentencing

High Court judge See Kee Oon said that words could not describe the “abject cruelty” of Gaiyathiri’s “appalling conduct”.

He also called it “among the worst type of culpable homicide”, noting that Piang suffered for a long time before dying, ST reported.

However, See also noted that Gaiyathiri was suffering from a psychiatric condition that affected her judgment, and that she had four previous domestic helpers who did not lodge any reports against her, and that she did not appear to be a pathologically violent person.

Gaiyathiri was assessed to have developed major depressive disorder while pregnant with her second child. She also had obsessive compulsive personality disorder.

Gaiyathiri’s lawyer Joseph Chen said that his client was remorseful, and cited her mental condition.

However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir said that a mental disorder is not a free pass, and noted that Gaiyathiri’s charge for killing Piang was already reduced from murder, due to her mental condition.

The DPP said this was a shocking case without parallel, and said her conduct was “cruel and heinous”. He took issue with Gaiyathiri blaming Piang’s hygiene, when many of her “offences” had nothing to do with cleanliness.

The DPP said: “The violence is a function of the accused viewing the victim as a lesser human being.”

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Top image from Straits Times’ YouTube Channel and via Helping Hands for Migrant Workers, Singapore’s Facebook page