Piang Ngaih Don was a 24-year-old Myanmar national who came to Singapore for her first overseas job in May 2015. Piang agreed to be a helper at the home of Gaiyathiri Murugayan, 40, as she needed to support her three-year-old son.
In return for more pay, Piang agreed to Gaiyathiri’s terms of employment which included not having a handphone and not having any days off as Gaiyathiri didn’t want Piang to mix with the other maids, reported Channel News Asia. Piang started working in the household which comprised of Gaiyathiri, her husband, Gaiyathiri’s mother Prema Naraynasamy, Gaiyathiri’s two children and two tenants but Gaiyathiri soon became unhappy with Piang.
Gaiythiri quickly established a strict set of rules that Piang had to obey as she found Piang to be slow, unhygienic and ate too much. She initially responded to Piang “breaking the rules” by shouting but those quickly escalated to physical abuse which ultimately led to Piang’s death.
“Closed-circuit television footage from cameras installed in the house to monitor the victim and the children showed the abuse carried out in the last 35 days of the victim’s life.”
The victim ate very less food including bread soaked with water, cold food or some rice and they only allowed her to sleep about five hours a night. During her employment, Piang lost about 15kg in about 14 months and upon her death, she weighed merely 24kg.
Piang was forced to shower and use the toilet with the door wide open while Gaiyathiri or Prema watched. They also made her wear multiple layers of face masks as Gaiyathiri found her “dirty” and didn’t want to see her face. The victim was assaulted by getting slapped, pushed, punched and kicked around by her employers. She was also attacked with a broom, metal ladle and other sharp objects.
On some occasion, she would lift Piang up by her hair and shake her violently until clumps of her hair would come out. In June 201, Gaiyathiri pressed a hot iron on Piang’s forehead while she was ironing clothes and then burned her forearm all while saying “If you like to burn people thing, how would you like if I burn your hand”.
In the clips of abuse shown to the court, the frail-looking Piang would not retaliate in any way while Gaiyathiri abused her mercilessly. The abuser would fling Piang by her hair while she did her chores and throw her around like a ragdoll.
The 12 nights before Piang’s death
In the days before the Piang died of brain injury with severe blunt trauma to her neck, she was starved and tied to a window grille at night and assaulted if she tried to rummage for food from the dustbin.
She was last taken to a clinic in May 2016 for a runny nose, cough and swelling on the legs. The doctor, who saw her bruises around the eye sockets and cheeks when Piang removed her mask and sunglasses, questioned Gaiyathiri but she evaded by saying her maid constantly fell as she was clumsy.
When the doctor wanted to conduct further tests on the victim’s swelling legs citing there could be an underlying condition, the abuser turned down the suggestion. The assault that led to her death occurred from the night of 25 July 2016, into the morning of 26 Juyl 2016. At about 11.40pm, when Piang was doing the laundry, Gaiyathiri felt that she was too slow.
“She hit her with a clenched fist, pulled her hair and told her to move faster. When the victim began swaying on her feet at the entrance to the toilet, Gaiyathiri told her not to “dance”, before striking her head with a detergent bottle.”
The victim grew disorientated and fell after her legs gave out. Gaiyathiri called her mother, Prema, and they both started splashing water on the victim. She was then dragged from the kitchen to the living room and then the bedroom where Gaiyathiri kicked her in the stomach while Prema punched and strangled her.
Piang asked for some dinner but Gaiyathiri refused her saying that she had given food to Piang earlier but she was too sleepy at the time. She then tied the victim’s wrist to the grille, kicked her in the stomach and left her there in her wet clothes. Around 5am, when Gaiyathiri found the victim to be unconscious, she angrily kicked and stamped her head and neck repeatedly. She lifted her up by her hair and pulled her head so that her neck extended backwards and strangled her.
When both Gaiyathiri and Prema found their efforts to wake Piang up futile, they grew concerned and tried feeding her some food around 9.22am. They then called a doctor for a house call lying that they had found the victim unconscious believing that she had fallen down.
The doctor asked them to call an ambulance but Gaiyathiri insisted on waiting and in the meantime, both the abusers changed Piang out of her wet clothes and carried her to the sofa. When the doctor arrived at about 10.50am, she saw the victim lying on the sofa with a gaping mouth, no pulse, cold skin and fixed and dilated pupils. She told the two women that the victim was dead and asked them to call the police.
“Gaiyathiri and Prema expressed shock and claimed that the victim had been moving minutes before the doctor arrived.”
The doctor asked both the women if they had been feeding the victim properly as she noted that the victim was thinner than her last visit to which Prema said that the victim “ate a lot”. The paramedics arrived and Piang was pronounced dead at 11.30am while the police questioned Gayathiri as to why she hadn’t called an ambulance and Gaiyathiri said that Piang’s condition was “not serious” and that she was “only weak”.
An autopsy found 31 recent scars and 47 external injuries on the victim’s body. She was emaciated and in a poor nutritional state and would have died of starvation if it had been sustained further.
Gaiyathiri pleaded guilty on Tuesday (23 Feb 2021) to 28 charges including culpable homicide, voluntarily causing grievous hurt by starvation, voluntarily causing hurt by a heated substance and wrongful restraint. She was assessed multiple times by psychiatrists, with a 2019 report concluding that she suffered from a major depressive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD).
The court documents stated this would qualify her for an abnormality of mind for the purposes of diminished responsibility. The prosecution, led by Senior Counsel Mohamed Faizal, asked for life imprisonment.
“Words like heinous, cruel and ‘inhuman’ are often used in submissions like these. But rare is a case where even such hyperbole cannot fully capture the indisputable horror and monstrosity of the crimes by an accused person.”
Gaiyathiri’s defence lawyers however asked for 14 years in jail stating that their client’s story is “quite tragic” and that she begs for mercy. Prema’s case is pending, while Gaiyathiri’s husband also faces pending charges for maid abuse.