Maoist cult leader father kept me a slave for 30 years - but I would forgive him

Express, UK/April 30, 2018

By Giulia Rhodes

On A sunny day in August 2016 Katy Morgan-Davies laid a bunch of yellow flowers on the grave in a quiet Welsh churchyard where her grandmother, grandfather and mother are all buried. It was, she says, "a very important moment" - one she had spent almost three years preparing for.

"Going to Wales, seeing where my mother grew up, where my grandmother lived, was something I had thought about so many times that to be there felt almost unreal," she continues.

Katy never met her grandparents and despite growing up with her mother, Sian Davies, Katy only became certain that she was her daughter after Sian's death in 1997.

Both women lived under the tyrannical rule of Aravindan Balakrishnan, leader of the Communist Collective, the Workers' Institute of Marxism Leninism Mao Zedong Thought in London.

In 2013, after spending three decades - her entire life - in captivity, Katy escaped the cult with two other women. At the time her health was very poor - having never seen a doctor she was becoming dangerously ill with untreated diabetes - and she then persuaded another worried cult member to call a helpline she had seen advertised on television using a mobile phone that had been smuggled in. They then arranged a rendezvous with a charity and police when they knew Balakrishnan would be out.

Two years later Balakrishnan - Katy's father - was sentenced to 23 years for rape, child cruelty and false imprisonment. Now Katy has written an account of her life in the cult, her first five years of freedom and her hopes for the future.

In Caged Bird, Katy, 35, describes the isolation of her upbringing, with no affection, no friends, no schooling, physical violence and outings so rare she could remember every detail of each one.

And her efforts to build the identity which her father sought to deny her.

"I was so lonely and bored," she says. "I would peep out of the window - which wasn't allowed - and see people going past. It was soul-destroying. I wasn't really a person, I was a project, de-humanised."

Balakrishnan - known in the collective as Bala - believed family to be a pillar of the fascist enemy. He ruled with violence and psychological terror, including threatening members with what he told them was an electronic satellite warfare machine he called Jackie.

Comrade Prem, as Katy was known - she chose her new name after her escape - was told she was a test-tube baby with no parents, her sole purpose being to serve the immortal Bala when his eventual world leadership began.

Gradually Katy realised that his pronouncements were lies - "I noticed the things he said didn't tally, he contradicted himself" - and that her "comrades" were brainwashed. Bala, she understood, was her father. Her mother was likely to be Sian, the most slavish of Bala's followers and frequently Katy's harshest critic.

Of all the deprivations she faced it is this - the denial of a proper relationship with her mother - which hurts Katy the most. "It is my main regret. I do wish I had been able to speak to her more," she says. "I find it very hard to talk about my mum even now."

On Christmas Eve 1996 Sian jumped from the second-floor bathroom window of the collective's house, sustaining terrible injuries. Although her condition appeared to be improving she died eight months later, without having left hospital, aged 44. Katy was 14 at the time.

For Katy the circumstances of Sian's death - just months after Katy first suspected the true nature of their relationship and before it was confirmed by another cult member - is an issue she is only now able to confront.

It was described by members of the cult as an accidental fall and the subsequent inquest returned an open verdict but Katy is in no doubt that her mother threw herself from the window in desperation. "I tried hard not to think about what happened, her suicide, for so long," she says.

In the previous days Katy recalls that Sian had tried to stab herself, appeared manic and agitated and had been physically restrained by Bala as she tried to run away.

In the face of this tragic loss Katy clings to one treasured memory. Having been taken to visit Sian in hospital - where she was described to staff as a family friend - Katy threw caution to the wind, saying, as she left, "Bye bye, Mummy." The reply - "Bye bye, baby" - was the most loving thing anyone had ever said to her.

"That moment, which ended up being the last time I saw her, is incredibly important to me. I called her mummy and she responded. From then I have always thought of her as my mother."

AFTER her escape, finding Sian's family was Katy's priority. In the 16 years since her mother's death she had fantasised about meeting her grandmother Ceri. Learning that she had died in 2005, never knowing she had a granddaughter, was a bitter blow. "I was too late," says Katy. "Finding out that she had gone was very hard."

She has become close to her mother's cousin, Eleri Morgan, speaking to her weekly. "Having that connection is wonderful," she says. Through Eleri she has built an image of Sian before she joined the cult: "I learned she was a very nice person. The nastiness was the effect of the cult." It is this version of her mother than Katy cherishes. "Eleri says my eyes are like hers, Aisha [Aisha Wahab, one of the women who escaped with Katy] told me my nose and mouth look like hers."

Through Aisha - who she sees every week and with whom she spends Christmas - Eleri and the couple running the charity which helped her to escape, Katy has carved out the family she so desperately wanted.

There is no place in it for her father. "I remember at one time I was desperate to be allowed to call him dad," she says. "I just wanted to be like everyone else but I know he was and is not a father to me." At Balakrishnan's trial jurors heard evidence from Katy as well as from two other women who had fled the cult in the 1990s after repeated physical and sexual assault. "All of that was a shock but it made sense," she says. "Once I had escaped, it was easy to see him for who he really was: a pathetic, scared, narcissistic, delusional bully."

Yet despite all this she no longer feels anger or hatred towards him. "He and the collective have no hold over me now. Nelson Mandela said that we must abandon those emotions or we will remain imprisoned and for me that is very true," she explains.

Surprisingly perhaps, she does not even rule out a future reconciliation. "I would be prepared to consider seeing him, to forgive him, but the first move would have to come from him."

Alongside Katy and Aisha escaping the cult in October 2013 was a third woman, Josephine Herivel, who quickly came to regret her decision and continues to campaign for Balakrishnan's release. "I feel very sad for Josie that she went back. What a shame to waste a life when there is so much to do in the world."

It is on this which Katy chooses to focus: "I want to move on, I don't get upset as much as I used to. It is part of my experience, it has shaped me but I despise self-pity. I have put the past in its place."

Leaving the cult with no formal education and no practical experience Katy found the adjustment to real life a hard one. "I had realised it would be difficult but I had to choose not to think about that beforehand," she says. "I needed to get out first. I wanted to be like everyone else but I was not equipped at all. I didn't know about money, how to get on a bus or how to talk to people."

She was, she says, neither child nor adult. "I felt like an alien." So she set about asking questions and learning - fast. She is now taking driving lessons, volunteers for Amnesty International, lives in her own flat in Leeds - "I love having my own place" - and enjoys music, reading, going to the cinema, visiting restaurants and spending time with friends.

In September she plans to study philosophy and sociology at university (having achieved high GCSE grades) and hopes a career - "helping people somehow, I am passionate about human right abuses of all kinds" - will follow. Recently she received her first passport, hugely significant after "not officially existing" for so long.

Time, she says, has sped up. "Every day in the house felt like a month. Now it is the other way round. The world is so exciting. Sometimes I still look out of the window and realise I can go out. I am totally free."

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