LONDON — She believed she was being controlled through her Levi’s.
A woman was allegedly subjected to decades of such brutal mind-control so brutal that she feared American imperialists were trying to brainwash her via a pair of jeans.
Prosecutors in London say that she was just one of the women being controlled by the twisted leader of a Maoist cult, who imprisoned and sexually assaulted his followers.
From the outside, Aravindan Balakrishnan’s home was an ordinary terraced house on a nice street in South London, but the permanently locked doors concealed a dark secret. Women had been held inside as prisoners and sex slaves since 1980, a court heard Thursday.
Most of Balakrishnan’s alleged victims cannot be named for legal reasons, but one of the captives was his daughter. She was hidden from the world—never going to school, the doctor or the dentist—until the age of 30 when the effects of severe diabetes forced her to escape the house and seek medical help.
Only then did the true character of Balakrishnan’s Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought become known.
The Institute was subsequently raided at the end of 2013 and Balakrishnan, now 75, was charged with 16 counts of rape, indecent assault, cruelty to a person aged under 16 years, and false imprisonment over 30 years. Three women were allegedly set free.
Prosecutors said a group of radical young communists had fallen for the political ideology of a charismatic idealist in the late 1970s and had scarcely been seen since. By 1979, prosecutors say the political aspirations of “Comrade Bala” were beginning to wane but the iron grip on his followers was becoming tighter than ever.
Prosecutor Rosina Cottage began to outline the case against him at Southwark Crown Court on the south bank of the Thames on Thursday. She told the jury that Balakrishnan preyed on impressionable young women whose political education soon descended into the “cult of Bala.”
His followers were allegedly subjected to beatings and sexual abuse; they were forced to spy on each other and came to believe that he could read their minds.
“This case concerns the brutal and calculated manipulation by one man to subjugate women under his control,” Cottage said. “They were forced into sexual acts over which they had no choice and were deliberately degrading and humiliating… He seemed to exult power over them.”
The followers of Balakrishnan’s sect were taught to believe that only he and Chairman Mao had the authority to establish an International Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
He allegedly concocted a mystical force known as “Jackie” capable of summoning earthquakes and tornadoes if anyone crossed him.
“He said that he had magical powers and was going to overthrow all governments and become leader of the world,” Cottage said.”
“He said that he had a mind control machine that monitored their thoughts.”
In his supposed quest to scrub the women’s minds “of the bourgeois culture and lifestyle,” Balakrishnanhe allegedly took an overbearing interest in their every thought and action.
When one of his followers bought a pair of Levi’s, Balakrishnan convinced her that the only way she would have been foolish enough to contribute to the grotesque American capitalist machine was through mind control.
“She became terrified that the Americans were exerting mind control over her because she had bought a mark so identified with American imperialism,” Cottage said.
Another of the alleged sex slaves was Sian Davies. When she died in 1997, the daughter she had carried for Balakrishnan, who was locked up in the house with them for decades, had no idea that she was her mother.
Some of the innermost hopes and fears of this child were heard in court Thursday, as the prosecutor read from her diary.
In an entry made when she was 12 years old, she worried that she had angered Balakrishnan.
“He said I disappointed him. His most faithful servant Jackie will be getting fed up. I must learn to serve him more faithfully in future,” she wrote. “Of course he is merciful but that is no excuse. He is my lord and master.”
Her mother also described in the diary a punishment of “30 beats” that she had received in the middle of the night because she was found not to be asleep.
The child continued: “You will die without Comrade Bala—AB gives us life.”
Perhaps the most disturbing entries in the diary were allegedly made by Balakrishnan himself. “Wrong ideas can burn you to death,” he wrote.
The prosecutor told the jury that this was a threat. “If she does anything without checking with him or anybody else she will spontaneously combust,” Cottage explained. “He is writing in the diarydairy of a seven-year-old.”