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Aravindan Balakrishnan and his Maoist cult in London: The sordid tale of exploitation, abuse and brainwashing

When Katy escaped, she had the social skills of a six-year-old. She could not cross the road on her own or use even basic appliances. Her mobility skills were severely impaired due to years of confinement in a closed space.

A woman who was held captive by her cult leader father for over three decades has recently opened about travails she endured during her period of captivity at the Communist Collective, a cult in south London founded by her father, Aravindan Balakrishnan, and how she escaped it.

For the first three decades of her life, Katy Morgan-Davies, now 38, was held as a slave under the total control of her father, Aravindan Balakrishnan, a self-styled leader called by his followers as ‘Comrade Bala’ or ‘Comrade B’. Balakrishnan ruled over his daughter and six other women ‘comrades’ with the use of violence and by inducing psychological terror in his captives.

In 2013, at the age of 30, Davies managed to escape her father’s Maoist cult, known by its followers as the Communist Collective, in Brixton, south London. Eight years later, she has shared her experience of her life under a cult leader for over three decades in a telltale interview with The Sunday Times.

More than two years after she fled the cult, in 2016, Balakrishnan, a former student at the London School of Economics(LSE), was found guilty of multiple offences, including rape, actual bodily harm and cruelty to a minor child. For over 30 years, he raped two of his followers, the court said. At the time of Balakrishnan’s trial, Davies had spoken against her, stating that it was “horrible, dehumanising and degrading” and that she felt like a “caged bird with clipped wings” under Comrade Bala. Balakrishnan was locked up for 23 years for offences including false imprisonment, child cruelty and assault.

Who is Aravindan Balakrishnan?

Born in Kerala, Aravindan Balakrishnan had migrated to Singapore where his father was stationed as a soldier. Later he shifted to London, where he completed his graduation from the hallowed London School of Economics. Soon after coming to the United Kingdom, Balakrishnan was attracted to the communist ideology. In 1974, he was ousted from the Communist Party of England (Marxist–Leninist) on account of “their pursuance of conspiratorial and splittist activities … spreading social fascist slanders against the Party and the proletarian movement” and attempting “to put themselves above the discipline of the Party”.

He later created a cult called the Communist Collective, based on the teachings of the then CCP Chairman Mao Zedong in the late 1970s. He styled himself as Comrade Bala and his Tanzanian wife as Comrade Chanda and enlisted a bunch of female followers, who were initially smitten with his charismatic patter, but who were later subjugated by him with the use of psychological and physical terror, supernatural threats and sexual violence.

An undated photo of Balakrishnan with members of his cult, including his daughter(Image Source: Metropolitan Police)

Balakrishnan considered himself as ‘God’

Balakrishnan created a halo of magnificence surrounding him, elevating himself to the position of God. He managed to convince his followers that he is the supreme being who could control their minds and possessed the power of striking them dead with a single touch. The cult members were expected to hew to a strict set of rules, which were punishable by violence. They were not allowed to make noise, appear drowsy in the morning or laud one another and many other such restrictions. Though, the rules would change constantly based on the whims and the fancies of Comrade Bala.

Often, he intimidated his followers with apocalyptic prophecies and by purveying wild conspiracy theories. He had predicted that a Maoist revolution would rise and transcend national boundaries, overthrowing the “British Fascist State”, which he claimed had deployed spies and agents everywhere, even in the house next door. He successfully convinced his followers that he was a God, who possessed seamless power to control the sun, the moon, wind and fires. He warned them that they would die in case they abandon or betray him. He said they would be incinerated by spontaneous combustion; mortally injured by a lightning attack; or be struck down by a “Jackie”, a Chinese-built satellite weapon over which Comrade Bala commands control.

Balakrishnan conjured up “Jackie” to threaten his followers; forced them to swallow his semen saying it was “the elixir of life”

JACKIE was nothing but a figment of Bala’s imagination, a mystical machine that allegedly monitored all thought and had the power to control minds. According to the cult leader, JACKIE was an acronym for Jehovah, Allah, Christ, Krishna and ‘Immortal Easwaran’. So, on the occurrence of any major event in the world, for example, the explosion of the American Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 or an earthquake, Bala would link the cause of the event to the imaginary weapon created by him, JACKIE, to reinforce its strength and intimidate his followers. Years later, some of his victims are still terrified of hearing the name JACKIE.

Explaining how they were mentally conditioned to believe JACKIE was real, Davies had said in 2016, “If I did something wrong, others and me, we would be killed by JACKIE, he would warn us” she told Sky News. “If he intervened by slapping us and beating us … then JACKIE would think that enough has been done and not kill us. So we should be thankful that he is hurting us … because we would be saved from JACKIE.”

The BBC in January 2017 hosted a documentary, providing details about the cult of “JACKIE”

Furthermore, in order to tighten his control over his followers, Bala asserted to his followers that he is immortal and they should obey him unquestioningly, should they want to escape death. This obedience also extended to sexual acts and Bala would often sexually abuse his followers on the pretext of granting them immortality and safeguarding them against evils.

As per evidence presented in the court that eventually led to his conviction, Balakrishnan began sexually abusing two of his women followers in 1979 and often derived sadistic pleasure beating them and making others watch it as he did so. All the women held captive by Balakrishnan were subjected to assault and four(not including his wife) were reportedly sexually assaulted by him. Balakrishnan forced the women to swallow his ejaculation, touting it to be “the elixir of life“. In his arraignment, Bala defended himself, saying that the women he sexually abused had been attempting to seduce him out of “jealousy” for his lover.

Aravindan Balakrishnan arriving with his wife at the Southwark Crown Court in London on Nov 11, 2015(Image Source: The Sun)

Katy was born inside the cult, to one of the followers

A child was conceived in 1983 after a follower, Sian Davies had fallen pregnant by Balakrishnan. A report by The Guardian had revealed that the collective then undertook a new experiment named Project Prem. The child was initially named Prem Maopinduzi, which means Love Revolution. As a part of the project, the child would never be told about her parents. Bala told her she was a foundling discovered by him. The ultimate plan was to “hand over the world to her,” a transition that would begin with Brazil, in which she would assume control when the time was right. Prem, of course, was Katy, unbeknownst of the horror that awaited her.

Bala forbade everyone from cuddling her or being affectionate towards the child. Nor was Prem or Katy allowed to visit a doctor or even consult a dentist. She did not attend school, although she does have a vague memory of someone teaching her to read and write. However, what Katy remembers vividly is that she was beaten by Bala and his followers all the time. The meanest of the followers, according to Katy, was Sian, her biological mother.

Katy Morgan Davies(Image Credit: The Guardian)

Cooped up in a small room with the windows covered by two sets of curtains, Katy was banned from going outside, mingling with other children and socialising with anyone outside the confines of the cult. Katy first saw television when she turned 19.

However, initially, Katy did not know who her mother was. Sian was a colonialist, had an imperialist background, which led other cult members to bully her while she was unable to say anything critical about Bala.

Sian, who was once a brilliant student at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, fell into the grips of the cult and could never escape. After joining the cult, Sian soon became one of the most loyal devotees of Balakrishnan and ended up getting pregnant by him.

Sian Davies(Image Source: The Independent)

In 1996, Katy, who shared the same surname as her mother, came to know about her mother. But by then, her mother was hallucinating from the psychosis induced by Balakrishnan’s mental games and years of neglect. She reportedly became ill, started talking to herself, cried hours on length, but was denied seeking external medical help. Later, Sian jumped or fell, from an upstairs window and was paralysed from the neck down. She was admitted to the intensive care unit. Fours months after that, she died.

After realising that she has been held captive, Katy decided to flee from the cult. However, it took years for her to hatch a plan that would result in her liberation. Although Katy had no experience of the outer world, she hunkered down to deradicalise herself and find a way to exit the cult. She says as she got older, her father grew less concerned about a neighbour seeing a child in the window and sounding an alarm. She used this opportunity to explore what the external world was by eyeballing others and trying to adapt their ways and behaviour. This cognition eventually helped her in devising a scheme that brought an end to the interminable nightmare she was experiencing.

Katy’s devises an escape plan to flee from the brutal cult led by her father

Katy discerned that it would be extremely difficult and incredibly risky to leave the cult on her own. So, she persuaded another follower, Josephine Herivel, to join her in the pursuit to flee from the place. She told Herivel that Bala’s wife was a damaging influence on him, knowing that any denunciation of Balakrishnan would be reported right back to him. Eventually, using a mobile she smuggled in, Josephine called a helpline of a charity she had seen on television.

Charity workers Gerard Stocks and Yvonne Hall helped in the rescue of the two women. After Katy and Josie left, a third woman, Aisha, also followed soon. But, months later, Josie sought Balakrishnan’s forgiveness and returned to live with his wife, Chanda. Josie had even denounced the punishment the court had ordered after holding Balakrishnan guilty. Aisha, however, continues to lead an independent life in Leeds, England.

When Katy escaped, she had the social skills of a six-year-old. She could not cross the road on her own or use even basic appliances. Her mobility skills were severely impaired due to years of confinement in a closed space. For decades, she was denied visits to doctors, dentists. Instead, she was condemned to live within the confines of the cult and systematically brainwashed to believe her own behaviour was responsible for natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and cyclones.

In the BBC documentary, neighbours of the house where the group existed had revealed that they had no idea so many people were held captive there. As per reports, Katie, as a child, used to hold up signs on the window, with “help me” written on them. But the letters were too small to read. Casual passers-by and neighbours never suspected what was going on inside the house.

 

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Jinit Jain
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