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Valar Qringaomis

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A less talked about aspect of freedom of speech in Singapore

Human resources manager fined, jailed for insulting modesty and causing hurt

"A human resource manager was fined $1,000 on Monday for insulting the modesty of a waitress by pointing at her breast and asking if his coffee was "from this machine". Pannirchelvam Ramachandra, 45, also hit the restaurant's supervisor's nose and threw a bowl at him. For these offences, he was jailed for 31/2 months.

He was in the cafe of the hotel in Bendemeer between 7am and 9am with a friend when he ordered two cups of coffee. The waitress, 33, asked him if he wanted the buffet coffee, which was complimentary, or the ala carte coffee from the coffee machine, which had to be paid for. He ordered the latter and when she served it, he pointed to her breast and made the insulting remark.

Later, when the cafe supervisor presented the bill, Pannirchelvam turned abusive. The supervisor walked away and video footage showed Pannirchelvam filling a bowl with noodles from the buffet table and flinging the bowl at the head of the supervisor. Later, he used the back of his hand to hit the victim's nose.

Pannirchelvam has previous convictions for disorderly behaviour and causing hurt to others and will start his jail term on Jan 16 so that he can settle work and family commitments."


This is almost certainly, of course, Section 509 of the Penal Code: "Word or gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman".

This is particularly interesting and relevant, because he was fined $1,000 *just* for insulting her modesty (and apparently he only said it once - unlike a previous case where the man sent two harassing SMSes to a woman). So we can disaggregate the charges for insulting her modesty and for battery, and distinguish between one-offs and repeated harassment (inasmuch as two SMSes constitutes repeated harassment).

It doesn't seem very far to go from criminalising insulting women sexually to criminalising bad pickup lines with a sexual component.

Naturally, AWARE does not call for this gender-specific law to be repealed or amended, and indeed suggests its use in sexual harassment allegations (though they do note that "Section 509 only protects women, whereas sexual harassment applies to both women and men").

(Fun peripheral fact: according to AWARE, "Criticising and insulting wife/girlfriend/partner", "Screaming at wife/partner/girlfriend" and "Controlling the wife/girlfriend/partner’s money and finances" are forms of "Violence Against Women").
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