Inside the cult of Comrade Bala

THE MUSICIAN: Ms Josephine Herivel, a talented violinist, moved to London in the 1970s to pursue a master's degree.
Inside the cult of Comrade Bala

THE STUDENT: Ms Siti Aishah Abdul Wahab moved to London around 1968 on a Commonwealth scholarship.
Inside the cult of Comrade Bala

THE CHILD: Ms Rosie Davies, whose mum died in 1997 at the commune, has never known life outside of it.


    Dec 03, 2013

    Inside the cult of Comrade Bala


    ONE was a talented violinist, another won a scholarship to study in London, and then there is Rosie, who never had the chance to know a life outside of Comrade Bala's "commune".

    They could have had bright futures but, instead, Ms Siti Aishah Abdul Wahab, 69, Ms Josephine Herivel, 57, and Ms Rosie Davies, 30, spent three decades in a Maoist political collective that had all the signs of a cult.

    Ms Davies, also known as Prem Maopimduzi Davies, has spent her entire life under former Singaporean Aranvindan Balakrishnan's influence.

    Her mother, Ms Sian Davies - who was living in the commune - had fallen out of the property's window in 1997, putting the group in the spotlight then. But since that tragedy, the group had vanished from view, until a call for help from Ms Herivel to a charity led to the release of the women on Oct 25.

    A Telegraph report yesterday pieced together how Balakrishnan may have recruited them into the Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, a tiny sect with just a handful of members that split from Britain's many leftist groups in the 1970s.

    Balakrishnan had come to Britain in 1963 at the age of 23 on a British Council scholarship from Singapore and enrolled at the London School of Economics, the Telegraph said. It was there that he met Ms Sian Davies and possibly other members of his group. A former communist told the paper how Balakrishnan kept members in check back then.

    "We were made to feel as though we were not up to scratch. We had only three to four hours' sleep a night, but if you missed a meeting, it was because of your bourgeois, imperialist state of mind," said Mr David Vipond. "That is how they kept people down, so you could not leave. They told you that you were following your self-interest and letting down the people."

    Ms Herivel, who once won the under-16 violin category at the Belfast Music Festival, moved to London in the 1970s to pursue a master's degree but, soon, she cut off contact with her family.

    Ms Siti Aishah was a high-flying student who moved to London around 1968 on a Commonwealth scholarship.

    While police have begun speaking to the three women, there are now doubts if any charges will be filed as the women appeared to be believers in Balakrishnan's far-left ideology, at least in the past. In a 1997 documentary made after the death of Ms Sian Davies, Ms Herivel is seen confronting police officers, repeatedly calling them part of a "fascist state", and asking them to leave their house.

    Ms Siti Aishah's sister, former teacher Kamar Mahtum, 73, who had an emotional reunion with her sibling in London, said she felt angry, sad and disappointed with her sister, who seemed evasive when asked about her life in London.

    Ms Siti Aishah told her sister that she has no regrets over her decision to cut herself off from her family for 40 years, The Star reported.

    Police believe the women were brainwashed and possibly beaten, but not sexually abused. It appears that they were allowed out of the house occasionally.

    Mr Ian Haworth, founder of Britain's Cult Information Centre, said brainwashing techniques appear to have been used to keep the three women in the group. Experts in cult strategies have often studied the way the Chinese government used such techniques during Mao's reign, he said.