Man Jailed for Punching Maid After She Said He ‘Ate a Lot’

Lawyers in Singapore argued in defence of Suriya Krishnan, saying he was “provoked” by his domestic helper from Myanmar.
Woman; hand; abuse
Like many maids from Myanmar working in Singapore, Kyi Than suffered abuse at the hands of her employer. Photo: Tinnakorn Jorruang / EyeEm via Getty

For serving her boss dessert in a way he didn’t like and remarking that he “ate a lot”, a 27-year-old maid in Singapore received three strong blows to her face, bursting blood vessels and fracturing her right eye socket.

The assault of Burmese domestic worker Kyi Than came to light in a Singapore court this week when her abuser Suriya Krishnan pleaded guilty to one count of “voluntarily causing hurt”. Kyi Than was employed by his sister at the time of the assault and had lived at their home where she would cook, clean and carry out other chores.

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On the night of May 29, 2020, the family was celebrating Krishnan’s father’s birthday at home but shortly before celebrations began, Krishnan got drunk and entered the kitchen to tell Kyi Than to prepare food for him. He then got upset when she remarked that he “ate a lot” and did not cut the jelly “in a manner that he wanted”.

He scolded Kyi Than but was stopped by his mother, leaving the kitchen before returning later to punch the maid in her face three times, one blow landing directly on her right eye. The assault left Kyi Than hospitalised for a week. Medical reports found that the attack left her with a black eye and broken blood vessels, fractures around her right eye socket and consistent pain in her eye.

While she stopped working for the family following the incident, she went without salary for months before finding a new employer later that year—a common dilemma faced by many domestic helpers in Singapore, who are often left vulnerable and without work or support after traumatic events. 

In 2019, a married local couple were jailed for six years, and four years for abusing their Burmese helper, including by forcing her to eat her own vomit. But it was the horrific case of another domestic worker from Myanmar, 24-year-old Piang Ngaih Don, who was tortured, starved and ultimately killed by her Singaporean employer in 2016, that drew national outrage. Her employer, the wife of a local policeman, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

For assaulting Kyi Than, Krishnan was sentenced to six months’ jail and ordered to pay her $8,500 in compensation for her loss of income as well as for the injuries and suffering she had to endure at his hands. A second charge of kicking her head, shoulder and thigh was also taken into consideration.

But lawyers argued in defence of Krishnan, a 25-year-old man, saying that he was “provoked” by Kyi Than. They also said that she was hospitalised for “only seven days” with no evidence she suffered psychologically from the attack. It was a one-off incident and there was no trend of abusive contact, Krishnan’s lawyer told the judge, adding that his client was unable to pay the compensation and would serve prison time instead. 

But the judge was incredulous. “How does that justify violence?” district court judge Toh Han Li asked in response to the rebuttals.

Associate law professor Eugene Tan, from the Singapore Management University, said that the six-month sentence was in “the ballpark.”

“The prosecution made a case for seven months jail, a month longer than the term meted out by the judge,” Tan said. “[But] given the apparent frequency of such offences, the need for stronger deterrence should be given due consideration. There may be a strong argument for penalties to be made more severe in cases of physical and mental violence directed at domestic workers.”

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