By Keith W
Yes, you read the headline right. The victim was detained — so to speak. Muthunayagam Saju has been told by the police that he is not allowed to go home to India. He must remain in Singapore because they may need him in order to prosecute the robber. Saju, 36, feels trapped on this island. He is also not allowed to work and has no income. “Like this, I feel in prison,” he says.
Even criminals in prison get better treatment — at least they get free food and lodging. Not Saju.
This ridiculous, inhuman state of affairs is a symptom of the way officialdom treats foreign workers.
“Saju is not the first one we’ve seen,” says Alex Au, TWC2 vice-president. “This kind of treatment is routine whenever a worker reports that he has been a victim of a crime.”
Saju finished his one-year cleaner job on 10 March 2013. In the few days before he was due to fly home, he spent a bit of his earnings buying a few gifts for his family and his future wife. The marriage had been arranged for soon after his return and was partly the reason why he did not renew his work permit. Getting married was more important.
Then, close to 10:30pm on 13 March, as he cheerily walked down Cuff Road in Little India, a knife was drawn and pointed at him. Holding it was a Singaporean. Saju’s gold chain, his wallet containing about $1,000 and his mobile phone were taken from him. He was shocked. “I stand there. I don’t know what to do,” he says.
The robber moved on to his next victim. But this victim had friends not far away who came running to help. The robber was seized, punched up, and hauled off to the precinct police station. Saju went along and added his complaint to the police reports.
That very moment, Saju the victim of the robber became a victim of our ‘system’.
His flight home was cancelled and he was put on a Special Pass to legalise a prolonged stay in Singapore. A particularly absurd condition of the Special Pass is that he is not allowed to work. How is he to support himself? Nobody seems to care.
When will he be needed to appear in court? No one in the police force will tell him with any certainty. His life is in limbo, his family’s finances fallen apart and it does not seem to prick any official’s conscience.
I meet Saju in July, four months after the robbery. “Why can’t you just buy your own ticket and go home?” I ask him.
“Cannot. My gold chain, my money, police keep,” he says sorrowfully. Perhaps these are needed as evidence. His passport too has been retained by the authorities.
And where’s the robber now? Is he in remand? Or is he out on bail enjoying his freedom? Saju doesn’t know, but just contemplating the possible irony leaves him even more frustrated.