Kumuthini Kannan sat rocking in her chair on Wednesday, the same way she had on numerous other appearances before Justice John Champion at the Victorian Supreme Court.
The Melbourne woman was, for once, powerless – a position she rarely faced in her marriage or her ownership of a frail, elderly Indian woman who she kept as a slave inside her Mount Waverley home.
For eight agonising years, Mrs Kannan paid the woman a pittance to work from 5.30am to 3am every single day.
She poured hot water over her victim, hit her over the head with a frozen chicken, pushed her down the stairs and left her in such a condition that when paramedics found her she had extreme hypothermia and a temperature of 28.5C.
She weighed just 40kg and had crusted lesions on her hands and feet. As a treating emergency room physician described her condition: “She was fading away.”
As Mrs Kannan and her husband Kandasamy Kannan were jailed on Wednesday – her for eight years and him for six years – a story about the pair’s bizarre dynamic came to light.
The court heard the couple’s “pitiless” and “heartless” treatment of their victim was used to ensure they could continue to take regular family holidays to India with their three children.
It heard how Mrs Kannan was in charge of not only every decision the family made but also the treatment of their slave.
“As person in day-to-day control, the actions of you, Mrs Kannan, were of an aggravated nature,” Justice Champion told the mother-of-three.
“Of the two of you, you are more morally culpable. You ran the household. You had the say. Towards the end, you became abusive and angry towards (your victims family) when they inquired about her.”
Justice Champion revealed that Mrs Kannan’s disregard for the welfare of the victim was so deeply ingrained that she went to a school concert after finding the slave in a puddle of urine on the bathroom floor.
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He said the offending would “unlikely to have come to light” had the victim not been hospitalised and the entire sick relationship been exposed.
“Neither of you have expressed a sense of sorrow or pity,” Justice Champion said in court.
He said that Mr Kannan was the “breadwinner” but that he lacked assertiveness and that he was dominated by his wife.
“You present as a relatively unassertive person and have regarded your primary role as being breadwinner for the family,” Justice Champion said.
“You do not know how you will cope with a period of imprisonment.
“You present as having a mild autism spectrum disorder. You present as quietly spoken, unassertive … emotionally constrained and your level of emotional intelligence is significantly below your academic intelligence.”
He said it was shocking that the couple did not make a single arrangement for the care of their three children – all of whom are on the autism spectrum – prior to the day they were convicted.
“You made no arrangements for your children’s care,” he said. “Your focus appears to be on yourselves and a denial of the possibility that you could be found guilty of these offences.”
The couple will now have to come to grips with being unable to physically care for their three children.
Mrs Kannan must serve a minimum of four years and Mr Kannan must serve a minimum period of three years before they are eligible for parole.
Justice Champion said their risk of offending was low.
The victim, who cannot be identified, travelled from India to Australia in 2007 to perform domestic duties for the Kannans.
But she told authorities that soon after arriving she was kicked and slapped, had boiling water poured over her legs and face, was cut with a knife and, at one time, beaten with a frozen chicken.
She said the couple punished her if she disobeyed them.
“More than 10 times I’ve been beaten and stomped and I’ve had poured hot water (on me) 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 court heard on Wednesday that a number of cheques had been sent from the Kannans to her family at home.
“Since my mother-in-law went, I have received four cheques from (the Kannans),” the victim’s son-in-law said. In total, the family received 60,000 Indian rupee ($A1191), the court heard.
Mr Kannan attended a private boys’ school in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and graduated from the University of Madras in Chennai, India, before the pair emigrated to Australia.
The Supreme Court heard the victim left school before completing a single year of education and worked in underpaid jobs before meeting Mrs Kannan during a visit to India.
“You were prepared to say and do whatever it took” to bring her to Australia, Justice Champion said.
“You took advantage of (your victim’s) vulnerability by exploiting her lack of ability to communicate in English … and her lack of money … and her ability to return to India at a time of her choosing.”
The eight years in which the woman was being held as a slave “far exceeds” any other prosecuted slavery case in Australia, Justice Champion said.