AGAIN, we are forced to return to the issue of violence against women in the wake of the murder of Naiee Singh, at the age of just 31, right in front of her workplace on Monday. Her murder, and the death by suicide of the perpetrator, her estranged husband, have sent shockwaves through the nation and plunged entire communities in grief. But amidst what must be unbearable pain, trauma, and grief, Naiee’s co-workers managed a symbolic gesture: they lined up to form a human chain in her honour, singing with tears in their eyes. Heart-breaking.
This is a problem that affects us all. Other workers had just got out of their own vehicles and were heading to work when the incident happened. They could have easily become collateral damage.
In the wake of a report that Naiee took out a restraining order against her assailant only a week ago, the circumstances of the murder/suicide now raise important questions about the efficacy of protective orders issued under the Domestic Violence Act. Pertinent matters which the authorities must address include whether more could have been done to monitor Roger Singh, 32; how he came to be in possession of a firearm; and whether he was required to undergo evaluation to assess his mental condition.
The legislation sets out the powers of the court to issue a range of orders once it has been shown that the respondent has engaged, is engaging or even might be likely to engage in abuse in the future. The court can compel the respondent to attend counselling or therapy, and can also order the respondent to relinquish any firearm he may possess. Were these powers exercised? And, if so, what steps did the State take to ensure compliance?
Unfortunately, while the act speaks of police powers of entry, upon the receipt of a complaint, it’s not exactly clear whether there are legal stipulations which compel law enforcement authorities to put the subject of a restraining order under heightened surveillance. Is this a matter for which authorities must be proactive? Or is there an automatic process that triggers it?
In this regard, it is useful to note law enforcement authorities do have powers, upon successful application, to intercept the communications of anyone for the prevention of a serious offence (one with a term of imprisonment of ten years or more). Have we come to a stage where all males who are subject to protective orders should be presumed to be likely to commit murder?
On paper, this question may seem alarmist, until we consider the fact that Naiee is the fourth woman known to be killed in a domestic violence incident this year. Three men are currently facing court proceedings.
But Naiee’s devastated family will never be able to take solace in seeing justice done.