A woman claims she was enslaved and beaten by Kumuthini Kannan (above) Picture: Mal Fairclough.
A woman claims she was enslaved and beaten by Kumuthini Kannan (above) Picture: Mal Fairclough.

Suburban family life of ‘slave keepers’

A COUPLE accused of torturing a female "slave" with boiling water and keeping her lying, emaciated, in her own urine, are respected members of their Tamil community in suburban Melbourne.

Computer engineer Kandasamy Kannan, a former Sri Lankan private schoolboy, and his wife Kumuthini are alleged to have kept and beaten a woman brought illegally from India.

The woman's torture and enslavement is alleged to have taken place behind the doors of the Kannan home in the south-eastern Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverley.

The allegedly enslaved woman was found there in 2015 lying in a pool of her own urine, emaciated, delirious, with severe hypothermia and crusted lesions on her hands and feet.

The Kansans are facing a committal hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court to determine whether they will go on trial on charges of possessing a slave and exercising ownership.

Both have also been charged with harbouring an unlawful non-citizen between July 2007 and July 2015.

The alleged victim claims Mrs Kannan pulled her hair, slapped and kicked her, threw boiling water on her legs, hit her on the head with a plate and cut her with a knife.

Kumuthini (left) and Kandasamy Kannan, above in Chennai, allegedly left their ‘slave’ locked in their home when they holidayed in India.
Kumuthini (left) and Kandasamy Kannan, above in Chennai, allegedly left their ‘slave’ locked in their home when they holidayed in India.

 

The woman, aged in her 50s, allegedly told police she was locked up inside the house each January when the family went on their annual holiday to India.

Kandasamy Kannan (above, left) is a computer engineer and former Sri Lankan private schoolboy.
Kandasamy Kannan (above, left) is a computer engineer and former Sri Lankan private schoolboy.

But from the outside, Mr Kannan, a Telstra worker with a degree from an Indian university, and his wife led an apparently ordinary family life with their three children.

They participated in the cultural life of Melbourne's Sri Lankan and Indian-born migrant families, who are clustered around Mount Waverley, Glen Waverley and other suburbs in the city's southeast.

They are Facebook friends with prominent and respected members of the Tamil community, and have participated in artistic and charity events.

The couple and their children have regularly travelled back to Chennai, where Mr Kannan went to university.

The alleged slave claims that she was told to stay silent at family gatherings and on temple visits or risk being beaten.

Kumuthini Kannan has three children. Picture: Mal Fairclough.
Kumuthini Kannan has three children. Picture: Mal Fairclough.

Mr Kannan, who attended the private boys school St Thomas College in the exclusive suburb of Mt Lavinia in Sri Lanka's largest city Colombo, is a graduate of the University of Madras, Chennai.

The alleged slavery took place in suburban Mount Waverley (above) in Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs.
The alleged slavery took place in suburban Mount Waverley (above) in Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs.

The Kansans emigrated to Australia, which has one of the largest Sri Lankan communities outside of the country, with just under half living in Melbourne.

During the Melbourne Magistrates Court hearing the woman, who cannot be identified, said that Mrs Kannan had also beaten her with a frozen chicken.

"More than 10 times I've been beaten and stomped and I've had poured hot water as well," the woman told the court through an interpreter.

"They treated me very badly. They beat me several times. I was beaten, once I was hit with a plate on the head ... I was also cut by a knife on my wrists.

"Twice boiling hot water was poured on my legs. Hot tea has been thrown on my face a few times."

The woman said she spoke to Mr Kannan for help, but he simply responded "just don't talk back to her", although he did ask about her welfare and if she needed medicine.

Kumuthini Kannan leaves the committal hearing at Melbourne Magistrates Court. Picture: James Ross.
Kumuthini Kannan leaves the committal hearing at Melbourne Magistrates Court. Picture: James Ross.

Commonwealth prosecutor Fiona McLeod SC told the hearing the woman travelled to Australia from India on a tourist visa in 2007 to perform domestic duties for the couple and help look after their three children, the ABC reported.

Ms McLeod said the woman told detectives Mrs Kannan would hit her if the cooking and cleaning was not up to standard.

She alleged Mrs Kannan made her work from 5.30am to 3:00am each day and throw things if she tried to take a break.

The woman also told police she was often too tired to eat proper meals and subsisted on cups of tea and rice.

Ms McLeod told the hearing in July, 2015 Mrs Kannan called an ambulance when the woman collapsed and was unable to get up.

Paramedics found her emaciated and lying in her own urine on the bathroom floor.

The woman alleged the Kansans' treatment of her deteriorated in the last two to three years that she lived with them.

Mrs Kannan's barrister Dr Gideon Boas told the hearing the woman received clothing, board and food and was cared for by the couple.

"She received things and money and wanted for nothing," the court heard.

A commentator posting on a story about the Kannan family last year praised Mrs Kannan for her "upbringing" of her family.

The ‘slave’ alleges Kumuthini Kannan, above at court, beat her over cooking and cleaning. Picture: Mal Fairclough.
The ‘slave’ alleges Kumuthini Kannan, above at court, beat her over cooking and cleaning. Picture: Mal Fairclough.
Kandasamy Kannan went to university in India.
Kandasamy Kannan went to university in India.


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