SINGAPORE: A housewife was acquitted on Wednesday (Feb 27) of maid abuse allegations after a trial, with the judge saying the maid was "prone to exaggeration".
District Judge Kenneth Yap said in his grounds of decision that her employers were "measured individuals" who had treated their domestic worker "with a fair measure of generosity".
Indian national Singh Manu, 42, had faced four charges of voluntarily causing hurt to her maid Rajinder Kaur on four occasions in January 2017.
She was accused of physically hurting Ms Rajinder in her Jurong apartment, including hitting her back, pulling her hair, twisting her arm and hitting her with a knife.
Over the nine-day trial, the judge heard the testimonies of the maid and her sister, as well as the couple who employed her.
The court also looked at a diary entry by Ms Rajinder, and a medical report documenting a bruise measuring 5cm to 6cm on Ms Rajinder's scalp, and reported tenderness on her neck and arm.
THERE WERE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES: JUDGE
The judge noted that Ms Rajinder, 28, was the youngest of three sisters and had come to Singapore from Punjab to replace her older sister as breadwinner of the family.
She missed her flight and cried when taken to her new employers' home, staying on only after both her sister and Ms Manu calmed her down.
"What struck me about Ms Rajinder was a lack of maturity, which was exacerbated by the cultural differences between her home and host country," said the judge.
He pointed to a diary entry Ms Rajinder had made where she wrote that she had to "endure their treatment and scolding" and was given "food that was not good".
When asked, Ms Rajinder said that she was referring to dough that had been prepared the night before and stored in the refrigerator.
She found this "bad", because only fresh dough had been used in her own home.
Ms Manu pointed out that the family ate bread, while the dough was given to Ms Rajinder to make chapati for herself.
"It was also evident that the complainant did not know how to behave as a domestic helper," said the judge.
"At one picnic outing, she was seen playing with the accused's daughters instead of helping with the setting up of the picnic and food."
He added that Ms Rajinder's own sister had admitted that her sister could be "lazy and irresponsible".
A friend of Ms Manu's said that Ms Rajinder initially had issues about cleaning the bathroom "as it was considered a job for the lower caste in India", the judge added.
READ: Singaporean couple jailed for punching Myanmar maid, making her drink water mixed with floor cleaner
ACCOUNT OF ALLEGED ASSAULT LACKING IN CLARITY
Addressing the charges themselves, the judge said he found Ms Rajinder's account of the alleged assaults lacking in clarity and subject to exaggeration.
Ms Rajinder said at first that her employer had slapped her in the back twice, but she later changed her evidence to say that she had been hit on her back twice with a closed fist.
She accused Ms Manu of hurting her when she became angry that Ms Rajinder could not move the dryer as asked, but Ms Manu's husband testified that the machine was too heavy even for him to lift.
"It seems highly incredible that the accused would have asked the (maid), who was of diminutive stature, to even attempt to lift the machine," said the judge.
Ms Rajinder claimed that she had been hit on a third occasion because she failed to heat up milk for her employer's daughters.
However, when told that the daughters did not drink milk but banana milkshakes with almonds, Ms Rajinder changed her evidence to say that she had been referring to banana milkshakes.
"However, this still did not explain why milk had to be heated up if a milkshake was what was required," said the judge.
There were also differing accounts for the last charge as to how the knife was used, and no mention of the injury to her hand was made to police officers at the scene on Jan 31, 2017. The doctor who examined her later that day recorded no such injury either.
The prosecution had fought for Ms Rajinder's case, saying that she had no reason to falsely implicate her employer.
"She had flown back to Singapore from India to testify against the accused," said Deputy Public Prosecutors Yang Ziliang and Sheryl Yeo.
"When cross-examined and asked whether she had lied about being flung against a bedpost, (she) calmly responded: 'If I had lied, I wouldn't have come back. I'd have stayed in India.'"
The judge ruled otherwise and acquitted Ms Manu of all charges.
He said: "It must be borne in mind that while there is a demonstrable need to protect domestic workers given their vulnerable nature, employers also need to be given the benefit of the doubt where the allegations are riddled with inconsistencies, as they are in the present case."
The prosecution has yet to indicate whether they are going to appeal.