Over six months, a couple inflicted horrific injuries on their Indonesian maid who had her left ear permanently disfigured and teeth knocked out, and was scarred all over her body including her scalp.
Zariah Mohd Ali, a 56-year-old Singaporean woman, would abuse Khanifah, 37, while the maid was doing household chores. Zariah would violently assault the maid with items such as a hammer, a bamboo pole, a scissors, and a pestle. Zariah would accuse the maid of not cleaning fast enough, or not doing her job well, before striking her, often to the extent that Khanifah bled.
The maid was not given the chance to treat her wounds, resulting in permanent disfiguration on her ears, scalp and shoulders.
A trial judge found Zariah guilty on 12 charges of voluntarily causing hurt and grievous hurt to Khanifah in 2012 on Friday (29 September). Zariah’s husband, Mohamad Dahlan, was also convicted on one charge of causing hurt to Khanifah by hitting her head with the cover of a frying pan. The couple have a daughter, Atiqah, and a son, who would only return home on the weekends due to National Service.
Khanifah first came to Singapore in November 2011 and started her first employment stint here with Zariah’s family shortly after. Her relationship with Zariah, who suffered from a stroke and was paralysed on her left hand, was good for the first six months of Khanifah’s stay with the family in their Woodlands home. Zariah would only scold Khanifah if the maid made mistakes in her work.
However, the relationship soured as Khanifah entered the sixth month of her employment. From June 2012 to December 2012, Zariah would scold the maid frequently and subject her to physical abuse with her right hand.
On five occasions, Zariah assaulted Khanifah with a hammer. During the first incident, Khanifah was cleaning the toilet in Zariah’s bedroom when the employer scolded the maid for not cleaning enough and for working too slowly.
With a hammer in her right hand, Zariah hit Khanifah on the back of her head “very hard” with the blunt side of the tool while the latter continued cleaning. Khanifah shouted in pain and her head began to bleed. She went to the toilet to clean the wound with water and later used a small towel to dress the wound but was unable to stop the bleeding.
In response, Zariah gave Khanifah a sanitary pad to staunch the bleeding. Khanifah did not treat her head wounds and it took months for the bleeding to stop.
When Zariah hit Khanifah’s head with a hammer again on other occasions, Khanifah’s old wound reopened and bled, but her employer would again toss her a sanitary pad to dress her wound. As a result of the injuries, Khanifah sustained permanent scarring on her head and her hair had not grown back by July 2013.
Zariah also used a hammer to hit Khanifah’s mouth on two occasions. The first time, Khanifah was cleaning the front of the door of Zariah’s bedroom when her employer began scolding her.
Zariah then told Khanifah to bare her teeth in a grin before striking her mouth with the blunt side of the hammer. This caused the victim’s gums to bleed, her lips to swell, and her teeth to loosen from the gums. Again, apart from washing her mouth, Khanifah did not treat her injuries as she lacked medication.
The second time the incident happened, two of Khanifah’s bottom two teeth fell out and two middle teeth from the top broke. Khanifah’s lips were also deformed.
Zariah also attacked Khanifah with a short bamboo pole that was used to hang clothes on more than twice. She swung the bamboo pole down on Khanifah, clipping the top part of her left ear. Her ear swelled and began to bleed as a result.
The second time the incident happened, the bamboo pole broke upon impacting Khanifah’s left ear, which became deformed after the incident. Zariah also struck Khanifah’s forehead with a stone pestle more than five times, causing swelling and bruises. The employer also used sharp objects on Khanifah.
Zariah stabbed Khanifah’s shoulders with a pair of scissors more than five different times. The attacks would leave holes in Khanifah’s shirt sleeves and cause her shoulders to bleed.
On one occasion, Zariah’s husband Dahlan asked Khanifah about the holes but showed no reaction upon hearing his wife was the cause of it. Zariah later gave Khanifah new shirts to wear.
Zariah also slashed Khanifah with a chopper as the maid was cleaning fish. She cut into Khanifah’s left forearm, exposing her flesh, according to court documents. Even then, Zariah only gave Khanifah a plaster to stop the bleeding. As the plaster was insufficient, Khanifah resorted to using a plastic and scotch tape to cover the wound. The wound swelled and bled over time.
Zariah also hurt Khanifah’s hand by using a piece of tissue to pull Khanifah’s little finger backwards. She did this to the point that a clicking sound was heard. As a result, Khanifah is no longer able to straighten her little finger, said the prosecution.
As they were abusing Khanifah, the family made effort to conceal the signs of their assault and made sure that Khanifah had no means of escape.
When Khanifah accompanied Atiqah for grocery shopping, she would be made to wear a long-sleeved sweater to conceal the injuries on her arm. She was also required to wear a tudung, which she had not worn when she first came to Singapore.
While Khanifah was in the flat, the doors and windows would be locked. The employer also threw away Khanifah’s diary of telephone numbers and told the maid that her house telephone was “locked”.
The incidents of abuse were eventually discovered by Khanifah’s family members when she returned to Indonesia on 19 December 2012. Khanifah’s husband informed her agent in Indonesia and a counsellor with the Indonesian embassy filed a police report on 11 April 2013.
In delivering the verdict, District Judge Luke Tan said that the prosecution had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. He noted that Khanifah was in a vulnerable position and had no one to turn to and no means of escape from the couple’s flat.
DJ Tan found that Khanifah gave a coherent and convincing account of the abuses, which were corroborated by witnesses, photos and medical reports. He agreed with the prosecution that an adverse inference should be made on Zariah, who declined to take the stand during the trial.
The couple, who are represented by lawyer Rajwin Sandhu, will be back for their sentence on 23 November.