How well can someone really know their neighbors? An ordinary house on an ordinary street in South London seemed like the perfect place to hide in plain sight for a couple who was anything but.
Neighbors would have never guessed anything was amiss until 2013 when, after a strange turn of events, this ordinary home became known as one of the most shocking stories the U.K. had ever seen…
Aravindan Balakrishnan was born in India and moved to Singapore as a child, where he grew up to be a communist follower of China’s Chairman Mao. In the 1970s, Balakrishnan moved to Enfield, South London and created a strange and secretive “collective”. Eventually known as, the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, Balakrishnan became a cult leader, surrounding himself by a group of impressionable all-female followers.
In the early 1980s, Balakrishna decided to move the group’s activities underground to his South London home after a police raid. Like many cult leaders at the time, Balakrishnan used different methods to brainwash his female followers into joining in his outrageous beliefs. He was eventually able to convince them into believing that he had God-like powers, including telepathy…
Daily life was hard for the all-female sect, known as “comrades”, who rose early to do the housework and cook for Balakrishnan and his Tanzanian wife, Chandra. The couple survived by stealing Chandra’s disabled sister’s disability checks. Meanwhile, the women competed for “Bala’s” attention, considering things like getting to turn on and off the shower for him to be a great honor.
Over the years, Balakrishnan’s ego and mental health grew out of hand and his control over his followers intensified to abuse, although most of the women refused to believe so. The commune became a prison to the women who believed they were his willing followers. The evil Balakrishnan kept a sect of female slaves and would carry out a ruthless campaign of sexual degradation over the many long decades they would be held captive…
In the early 1980s, a woman named Sian Davies who joined the cult had a sexual relationship with Balakrishnan, bearing a daughter named “Prem Maopinduzi,”, which was said by Balakrishnan to mean “Love Revolution”. The girl, who eventually changed her name to Katy, and was called “Project Prem” was a human experiment by her cult leader father who prepared her to be a model citizen.
Then on Christmas Eve 1996, Sian Davies was bound and gagged on the living room for trying to escape. She later fell out of a top floor bathroom window and suffered a rapid decline in her mental health, falling into a coma. Sian died eight months later and her family was told she had gone to India to do charity work, never to be heard from again…
Sadly, another cult victim named Oh Kar Eng also suffered a horrible fate at the hands of Balakrishnan. A nurse from Malaysia, she followed the cult leader from the 1970s and became brainwashed and enslaved. In 2001, she hit her head on a cupboard and suffered a stroke.
Since no medical treatment was allowed by the commune, she died the next day. No police report about the accident was ever filed and her family was not told about her cremation. Balakrishnan insisted to her family that the commune did not have their ashes, even though they were being kept hidden in a storage unit…
Two other female captives were Aishah Wahab and Josephine Herivel. Aishah was a Malaysian woman who moved to the U.K when she was 24 to become a student. Unfortunately, just like the other victims, Aishah found Balakrishnan’s group and loved its fiery Marxist rhetoric so much that she decided to leave her fiancé and entire life behind to join the cult.
Before Josephine Herivel, who was known as Josie, joined the group she was a violinist studying at the Royal College of Music. Her father, John Herivel was a well known British science historian and one of the Bletchley Park Codebreakers who helped win World War II. In the 1970s, Josie moved to London and disowned her family after becoming involved with the Workers’ Institute of Marxism–Leninism–Mao Zedong Thought and was unknowingly trapped by Balakrishnan…
Who Am I?
The final survivor was Katy, who had no idea that when Sian Davies died many years earlier, she was her mother. In fact, she was never told by Balakrishnan or any of the other enslaved women who her parents were. Since her undocumented, underground birth, Katy was unknowingly being imprisoned by her own father.
What’s Out There?
She also grew up without any idea about the world around her. Katy had never left the basement to be seen by a doctor or a dentist when she was ill. She was not taught to read or write and had no knowledge of anything a normal child would learn in school, something she had also never heard of…
Katy wore gender neutral clothes and was raised without any toys to play with. She also never had any contact with another child throughout her youth. The child was so lonely she tried to befriend the mice that joined them in their unsanitary basement living conditions.
All Your Fault
She even thought her best friend was the bathroom sink tap. “You are on my side. I’d kiss the tap. I’d hug the toilet when the flush worked,” she would say to it. The poor little girl was also told by Balakrishnan that natural disasters were all her fault. In 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, Balakrishnan made a young Katy believe it was because people were challenging him in the house…
Although Katy was told lightning would strike her dead if she tried to escape, she still thought about trying to escape the evil cult many times. In 2005, a teenage Katy, finally worked up the courage to make a run for her life, knowing that the situation was very wrong and she would end up dying in the basement.
Katie snuck out and ended up at a police station, but unfortunately was persuaded to return home because it was a bank holiday. Having the mental capacity of a young child, she didn’t understand enough to explain to anyone on the outside how desperately she needed help. Many years went by before any of the women would try again to escape.
In the Summer of 2013, Josie became extremely concerned with Katy’s rapid weight loss which was due to undiagnosed diabetes and knew the women had to do something to save her. After memorizing the phone number for a helpline she saw on a BBC program about forced marriage, she first initiated an escape plan.
Josie secretly saved change from her regular trips to the grocery shop and finally saved enough to buy and smuggle a phone into the home. While Balakrishnan and Chandra were busy watching tv, they called for help and created a plan with police and members of the Palm Cove Society. The women knew the exact time each week when Balakrishnan and Chandra would go shopping, and would finally have an opportunity to escape…
Josie got cold feet during the plan and worried police involvement would get ‘Bala’ in trouble, proving just how terrified and brainwashed the women were . But finally, on November 21, 2013, Katy escaped for good. Metropolitan Police from the Human Trafficking Unit swarmed the home and arrested her father, a now 73-year-old Aravindan Balakrishnan, and his 67-year-old wife, Chandra Pattni, after they were investigated for slavery and domestic servitude.
When Katy finally escaped and was rescued from her life as a slave she was 33. Katy has spoken about living since birth “like a caged bird”. “I want him to recognise what he did was wrong. I’ve been a non-person all my life and now is my chance to be myself.” Yet even after all Katy’s been through, she said, “I would like to reconcile with him in the future…if he wants it.” Josie and his wife, Chandra, also defended him, saying they were never abused by the evil cult leader who kept the women enslaved for three decades.