Lessons from the tragic death of Ms Monika Chetty!

Monika Chetty




The tragedy of Sydney homeless woman, Ms Monika Chetty, has been in the news. Ms Chetty is of Fiji Indian background. Her agony, pain, injuries, sufferings and ordeals have affected people, not only from Indian community, but also from every other community in Sydney. People have expressed their sadness for what happened to her. “Rest In Peace” comments have been posted in social media. People, including her classmates from High School days, have expressed their wishes to attend her funeral, when the date for funeral is fixed. There is certainly an outpouring of grief.

People from various communities, including Indian Australian community, have wondered how a lady from a close-knit community like hers could be homeless for this long. She has been homeless at least since May 2013. Many including I have known about her. I received an email about her from a concerned Indian in May, 2013. I did whatever I could as a result. Others from Indian community did things too in whatever way they could. From media reports, we know that members of non-Indian community too helped her in whatever way they could help. Obviously, this was not sufficient.

After May, 2013, I did not hear anything about her until the news of her burn injuries in early Jan, 2014.

She suffered massive burns (80% of her body) and was admitted in the burns Unit of Concord Hospital, Sydney in early Jan, 2014. I was devastated to hear about her burn injuries when a SMH reporter contacted me while I was in India. After struggling for her life in the Burns Unit, she has unfortunately died on Friday, 31st Jan, 2014. This is a very sad news. Our hearts go out to her children and family. She was a mother, sister and daughter to someone, and her death must obviously be devastating to them. I feel their pain. To say that I am anguished is definitely an understatement.

There are questions in regards to how she received these burn injuries to 80% of her body. What are the circumstances of these injuries and who did it to her? Obviously, NSW Police is investigating and will reach a conclusion in due course. How, why, where and when of her burn injuries need to come out.

There are many lessons and messages from this tragedy. These are relevant to everyone, but more so for Indian community in Sydney. Without putting any blame on anyone, we can’t run away from introspection and analysis about what happened to a co-human and why. We can’t run away from introspection and analysis about what should/could have been done, and was unfortunately not done, or done too late! We must think about it!

As I think through, I get following questions repeatedly in my mind.

1. How did this happen that she was homeless for this long without an effective help? From media reports, she was seen in pain for days or even weeks before Police was finally called. How could her cries and pains go without needed (and appropriate) help? What happened here? How cries and pains of a human did not receive the help/assistance which was needed?

2. Do we have any mechanism to help our people when they get into such desperate situations?

3. What is the role & responsibility (moral and social) of Indian Australian community in regards to these situations happening to its members?

4. What is the role and responsibility (moral & social) of every human, irrespective of the segment of the community they belong to, when they encounter such cases?

5. Have we become too individualistic, self-centered and self-focused that we do not do enough to help people in desperate needs? Did we fail as a society in this case?

6. What prevents people from our own Indian community from sharing their difficulties with members of Indian community? Are there some cultural issues which create obstacles in seeking such community help and guidance? Do we have issues in protecting confidentiality of information when someone from our own community seeks guidance or help from us?

I have been thinking about her ordeals ever since I heard about her burn injuries. My view is that we should approach key people of the Indian Australian community (Fiji Indians are part & parcel of Indian community) as well as general community members, with a suggestion that we meet and discuss these issues to help us  have a mechanism which can be used to help people. This suggestion is not about some alternative model of service delivery. It is all about preparing ourselves to look out for, and help (if necessary), people who are in trouble.

7. Did “System” which is expected to help people like Ms Monika Chetty fail completely? If yes, then why did it fail, and who is responsible? What needs to be done to not let this happen in future? I know from my personal information as well as from the media reports that many people did help her in some form (money and food), and some contacted the agencies, asking them to help Monika. What did these agencies do in this case is something which is not clear at all.

Monika’s ethnic heritage being Indian does not make this case solely relevant to Indian Australian community. Her case is relevant to every human in Australia. Having said that, I do believe we, from Indian Australian community, have a slightly higher moral responsibility for what has happened here. We must learn from this tragedy. We must recognise the issues, understand them and evolve a mechanism to offer help, recognising that this help does not necessarily  need to be financial, as an appropriate and timely counselling at times could deliver the result.

We, as a community, need to have a serious debate and discussion on these matters.

NSW has services, facilities and help [Govt as well as Non-Govt sector], which could be utilized in these circumstances. We just need to network and organise ourselves into doing this type of service to our own people. We need to get into serious stuff like helping our needy people, if we want to do sincere and genuine community work.

Ms Monika Chetty suffered needlessly, but she is not going to be the last one. Even though it has been rare to see an Indian homeless woman so far, it may change in future as our numbers keep growing. It is crucial for us, as a community, to do something in this regard and prepare ourselves to deal with cases like this in future.

I wish to emphasize it here that this tragedy is very much about “Monika Chetty-an Australian and above all, a HUMAN”, not just about “Monika Chetty-an Indian! We all must remember this fact. We should help any human-irrespective of his/her background, when we encounter such cases.

We must re-assert, by deeds and actions, that we are a caring community and do look after people, within our means and resources, when they end up in difficult and desperate circumstances!

Saying just R.I.P is not enough!

Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/4th Feb 2014



19 thoughts on “Lessons from the tragic death of Ms Monika Chetty!

  1. Hi

    I would like to help Monuca Chetty’s children. Is there anyway I can get in contact with the family to organiseorganise this?


  2. Monika called her husband saying she was homeless and couldn’t look after the children. Why on earth did he not provide her with somewhere to live? How can a husband let his ex wife be homeless? And yes I will mention ethnic background because being Fijian Indian IS relevant; desi society places a great emphasis on shame, honour and family relations. Either she was scared to go live with him or he didn’t care about her at all.

    How her community ostracised her is disgusting. Another example of shame in Indian culture. Somebody had been inflicting abuse on her months before she died and they finally succeeded in killing her with the last attack. I am suspicious even without solid evidence, because Monika’s background coupled with the high rates of acid attacks in desi culture is just too coincidental!


    • I request you to not make any comment, blaming anyone, without full facts. Hopefully, Police will find out all facts. If you have any info which might assist, please go to Police or call Crime stoppers 1800 333 000. It is not known, at least publicly, why she was homeless. Let us wait for full facts, before blaming anyone.


  3. I I have met many people recently who have known Monika in one or the other way. I have spoken with many too. Some have sent me info/messages. I am now aware that many people did try to help her. Some said harsh words to her too. Many have met her and responded to her “Please help me” with money and food. Some people called NSW agencies which are supposed to help people like Ms Chetty. I am not sure what these agencies did, however. I am hoping that Coroner/Police will bring all these points out when they do a report.


  4. I think there was a lot that could have been done to help Monika. Yes, I have read articles that she refused help but the state she was in (burnt, with bandages and in pain), I believe help should have been imposed. How could anyone one of you think she was in the right mental state to make the right decision for herself or to accept help. It took so long for someone to call Police and point out that there is a badly burnt person around who may need urgent medical attention. If Monika had gone to the hospital earlier, she have survived and it would have been easier and perhaps more possible for Police to find out what happened to her. People are too self absorbed with themselves, status and their family to take a step and take some responsibility or to care about a stranger. Why will they? It doesn’t get them any sort of reward. Monika’s family are the worst. How could someone let their daughter/sister beg on the streets and suffer. Why should anyone help them now with money? Her husband is not any better. Your wife calls to tell you she is homeless, and you go ‘ok, see you,later’. Her oldest kid is 15 yrs I think, why didn’t he/she ever wonder where their mum was? Now the family is moving up to give a proper funeral. I suppose it will look good in media. I suppose i will continue to see articles about her and how much people care or cared. I can’t help but think it is all for status saving after some damage. She is better off gone now then to live in such a selfish society.


    • Many things including details of family dynamics are not fully clear, hence it is difficult to make a definitive comment. Whether she accepted help and whether help was offered, we can’t ignore the stark fact that she has died in this manner. System failed. This is horrible & unacceptable. This death was avoidable.


    • Why do you feel deemed to call Monika’s family the worst? The situation is something we could not and should not judge since we don’t know the truth. I really hope justice is served, and feel incredibly sorry for the children involved in this.


      • I agree with you, Lauren. All facts about her situation and family dynamics are not known at this point in time. There are a lot of speculations of all sorts, but speculations can not be the basis for any conclusion or comment. I feel for her children, knowing that they will be going through a very difficult time. I am hoping that coronal/Police investigation will bring out all aspects of this tragic story.


  5. I have been very touched by this case since seeing it on the news, Late December 2013.
    As someone that was physically approached by the late Ms Chetty, I feel there is a lot more to this case than what is meeting the eye. I can honestly say that I tried my very best in assisting Ms Chetty when I was approached by her in Mid December, but there is a fine line between offering assistance and forcing someone help. Australia offers much assistance to people in such circumstances and there is really no need for people to have to beg for money, food, shelter etc to form a living here in our beautiful and extremely generous home, Australia. I feel that her death was incredibly unfortunate, but cannot help but to disagree with Mr Yadu Singh, I feel that we all did everything we could to help Ms Chetty, It eventually becomes up to the individual to help themselves before we can do anything more. There are many homeless individuals that roam our streets and I find it extremely disheartening that some keep saying “how could this happen to an Indian Person?” Indian, Middle Eastern, European? why should race even be mentioned? and why does it need to happen to someone from the “Indian Community” before people recognize homelessness and street abuse? I give my deepest, most heartfelt condolences to Ms Chetty’s family and only hope that Ms Chetty’s experience will shed light on others in such situations around Australia.


    • Thank you, Lauren. I agree with your comments. Sometimes, some people are not able to figure out where should they go for whatever help they need. and that is where some help/guidance can do miracles. Not sure, this was the case here though. A lot of things are not clear yet. I completely agree that it should not matter what ethnicity the person in trouble is from. We are all Australians, and above everything else, humans. We should do everything within our means and resources to help our co-humans, when they are in difficulties. I am aware that many people from all backgrounds have tried to help her. Many called the shelters, local council, CentreLink and other authorities/agencies, but there is some question mark over the response they gave to such requests. Did “system” failed is the question which many have in their minds. I just hope we do not see any such sad and unfortunate story in our city and country. I just hope nobody, irrespective of the race, background or gender, goes through the ordeals which Monika went through. Thank you, once again. Dr Yadu Singh


  6. Fantastic post; I applaud your the sensitivity and compassion you articulated in the questions you have posed. Well done.

    I cannot believe this happened to an Indian Fijian woman in Australia. How could she have been homeless for so long? How could her ex husband not have tried to help her out? Why did some members of the Indian community turn their back?

    Her injuries are suspicious and hint towards abuse. Acid attacks are not common in Australia but are in desi countries. Monika’s tragic case breaks my heart and makes me want to investigate the circumstances myself, to somehow serve her justice. If only I had lived in Sydney, if only I could have been there to help her somehow.

    I sincerely hope the NSW police discover the truth and are able to punish somebody for Monika’s pain.


    • If you really want to help (“Monika’s tragic case breaks my heart and makes me want to investigate the circumstances myself, to somehow serve her justice. If only I had lived in Sydney, if only I could have been there to help her somehow.”), you’ll travel to Sydney atleast to meet her dear ones.


      • It’s a bit difficult to travel interstate to Sydney, find accommodation in a city I don’t know with no kin in, on my casual health care worker wage. I would if I could, my friend.


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