Former Changi Prison counsellor in Singapore jailed seven months after slapping domestic worker so hard she lost hearing for a while

Thang Khaw Lam could not hear anything in her ear after she was slapped hard a few times by her employer. She developed headaches and suffered from vertigo and giddiness. ― iStock pic via TODAY
Thang Khaw Lam could not hear anything in her ear after she was slapped hard a few times by her employer. She developed headaches and suffered from vertigo and giddiness. ― iStock pic via TODAY

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SINGAPORE, April 15 — A 51-year-old housewife and former counsellor with Changi Prison, who slapped her domestic worker until she suffered temporary hearing loss, was jailed for seven months yesterday (April 14). She also used a frying pan to hit the worker on one occasion.

The court has ordered Gayathri Iyer to compensate the 30-year-old worker, Myanmar national Thang Khaw Lam, more than S$5,000 (RM15,437). If Gayathri cannot pay the sum, she will have to spend another 30 days in jail.

At the time of her offence, Gayathri was the wife of Sundararajan Suresh, who was then the president and group head of corporate functions at Olam International, a multinational food and agri-business firm. 

In February, Gayathri was convicted of abusing the worker following a trial.

Thang Khaw Lam started working for Gayathri’s family at their home at Pebble Bay condominium in Tanjong Rhu on June 28 in 2017 and ran away by December 12 that year.

The prosecution’s case was that Gayathri physically abused Thang Khaw Lam from the third day of her employment when she made mistakes or used the word “mah”. 

The court heard that Thang Khaw Lam had picked up the word “mah” from her previous employers, who were Chinese, but it annoyed Gayathri, who felt that it was not the right way to talk to an employer and that it was rude to say it with the body language that she used.

On the day Thang Khaw Lam was hit with a frying pan, Gayathri had scolded her for not being able to cook Indian dishes.

The worker replied that she had told Gayathri in her pre-employment interview that she did not know how to cook Indian dishes, and Gayathri had promised to teach her.

Having not had dinner at the time of this exchange, Thang Khaw Lam also said: “I’m hungry, mah.”

Thang Khaw Lam also testified that she lost her hearing on December 7 in 2017 when Gayathri slapped her thrice — twice on her left ear and once on her right ear — at around 5.40am.

This was because she did not wake up Gayathri’s son, then a full-time national serviceman, who needed to get up at 5.45am.

After that incident, Thang Khaw Lam started having problems with her left ear, hearing sounds such as “woo” and “yee” that were symptoms of tinnitus, and feeling dizzy or nauseous when she bent down to pick things up.

The symptoms later worsened until she could not hear anything in her left ear for the whole day and developed headaches. 

Her hearing has since recovered. A test on September 5, 2018 showed that she had regained normal hearing, although she had told a doctor around that time that she was still experiencing vertigo and dizziness.

The doctor testified during the trial that one might continue to experience vertigo and tinnitus after one’s hearing had recovered.

In her defence, Gayathri said that the worker made up false allegations of abuse because just a day before she ran away, her husband had confronted Thang Khaw Lam for stealing nail polish.

She also argued that the worker did not escape from their home earlier.

On other occasions when Gayathri hit the worker, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Tan Ee Kuan told the court that another domestic worker from Myanmar not from the household saw Thang Khaw Lam with a bump on her head that was “like a potato” in July 2017.

Thang Khaw Lam confided in Ei Thandar Swe then that she suffered this injury because Gayathri had thrown a high-heeled shoe at her and it hit her head.

Although Ei Thandar Swe had advised her to go to the police, Thang Khaw Lam told her that her situation would worsen if she reported the matter to the police since Gayathri would deny the claims.

She wrote in one of her phone text messages to Ei Thandar Swe: “Female employer is very smart. She acted very nice in front of male employer. She tortured me when the male employer is not around.

"After that, she falsely accused me for things that I did not do. I told her that she did it in front of me. But she denies it.”

Thang Khaw Lam eventually left her employer’s home on December 12 in 2017 to go to the office of Centre for Domestic Employees, a non-governmental organisation located at Peninsula Plaza. She filed a police report afterwards.

For sentencing, the prosecution asked for a nine-month jail term, while Gayathri’s lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan asked for nine weeks, arguing that it is not proven that Gayathri had inflicted any psychological harm, even though Thang Khaw Lam continued to suffer nightmares from the abuse.

Kalidass also asked for a lenient sentence on account of Gayathri being a counsellor once in public service and she had pledged to donate all of her organs after her death even though it goes against her beliefs as a Hindu.

In sentencing her to seven months’ jail, District Judge Tan Jen Tse pointed out that he was not able to find that the victim had suffered psychological harm as well. The prosecution also had not proven beyond reasonable doubt that there was a sustained pattern of abuse, he added.

Gayathri could have been jailed up to three years and fined up to S$7,500 for assaulting the domestic worker. ― TODAY

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