Confined by their own family

Educated / The Girl In the Shadows
Forfatter: Tara Westover, Katy Morgan-Davies
Forlag: Penguin / Random House (Storbritannia / USA)
CATCHED / In two autobiographies, we get to know Tara Westover and Katy Morgan-Davies, respectively, who were both brainwashed, manipulated, abused and held captive by their own family – until they finally manage to escape.


In Austria, where I am located, there have been several cases of girls who have been kept locked up in secret rooms and basements: Natascha Kampusch from Vienna who was abducted by Wolfgang Priklopil when she was 10 years old and kept locked for more than eight years ; Josef Fritzl who kept her daughter Elisabeth Fritzl locked in the basement for 24 years and had 7 children with her; and Gottfried W. who abused and kept his two daughters, Christine and Erika, locked up for 40 years.

Detained girls are not unique to Austria, but also a problem elsewhere in the world. In the books The Girl In The Shadows by Katy Morgan-Davies (b. 1983) and educated by Tara Westover (b. 1986), two daughters with control sick fathers tell the story of their captivity and how they managed to get out of it. One is from the United Kingdom, the other from the United States, and their stories have several similarities.

The cult leader's daughter

Katy Morgan-Davies' father, Aravindan Balakrishnan, came to the UK from Singapore in the 1960s to study at the London School of Economics. He creates the Collective Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought in 1976. His followers are exclusively women: the wife of Chanda, the disabled sister-in-law Shobna and seven others – all have in common that they are far from their home country, they have family problems and feel lonely. Balakrishnan convinces them that he is God, that he controls the outside world through JACKIE (Jehovah, Allah, Christ, Krishna and Immortal Easwaran) and that they should obey him if they do not want to die.

Katy Morgan-Davies

In 1983, the collective embarked on an experiment they called Project Prem. Balakrishnan, also called Comrade B or Bala by his followers, makes the cult member Sian Davies pregnant. The girl child who is born is called Prem Maopinduzi (meaning "love revolution" in Hindi and Swahili) – she does not know who in the cult is her parents, but is raised by the collective as Balakrishnan's soldier. This is how Katy Morgan-Davies is born into a nightmare where no one is allowed to hug her, and she is not allowed to go to a doctor or to school. She is physically and emotionally abused – constantly being beaten up by Balakrishnan and the women, especially much by her mother Sian. This has been going on for 30 years.

Parts of the book are heartbreaking to read. For example, when she writes that she is not allowed to use the swings in the playground, and that she cries while watching the other children being allowed. When she asks her father (cult leader) why she can't remember like the other kids, he replies that it's too dangerous and that people can notice her – "I had to stay in the shadows instead," she writes.

Morgan-Davies does not know who her parents are, but remains
raised by the collective as Balakrishnan's soldier.

When she falls in love with a boy named Roddy, his father tries to manipulate her into believing that the boy is a "fascist agent working to infiltrate the Collective". About her father, she says: "He was used to every woman around him worshipping him; to him, I was just another woman and should have no other man in my life but him. "


Tara Westover

I educated Tara Westover is born into a fundamentalist Mormon family in a mountainous area of ​​Idaho, USA, as the youngest of seven siblings. Parents Gene and Faye (pseudonyms), are skeptical of doctors, hospitals, public schools and the state. They, on the other hand, believe in the Illuminati (conspiracy theory of how the world is governed) and alternative herbal medicine.

Tara Westover is therefore born at home, she is never examined by a doctor or a nurse and does not even get a birth certificate until she turns nine. In the summer, she helps her mother prepare herbs for medications her family uses. In addition, she and her siblings receive homeschooling consisting of reading the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the speeches of Joseph Smith (leader and founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and Brigham Young (second Mormon church prophet and founder of the Mormons own city, Salt Lake City).

Saved by the books

Both Westover and Morgan-Davies slowly release themselves from captivity through books they read about the outside world. They begin to compare their everyday lives with the reality they are reading about, and slowly but surely realize that they are being manipulated, brainwashed, abused and held captive by their own family.

Morgan-Davies writes: "Reading and writing was the main thing I did." Her father buys several books on philosophy, psychology and medicine to impress her followers. He never reads them himself, but in return Morgan-Davies does. In addition, she reads Lord of the Rings og Harry Potter, and compares the danger with Voldemort and Sauron. Writing becomes a big part of her life in the collective – she writes several diaries, poems and stories. The Girl In The Shadows contains several excerpts from the diaries.

Westover and the siblings receive homeschooling consisting of reading the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the speeches of Joseph Smith.

Westover's first step toward liberation begins with reading math and grammar so that she manages to enter Brigham Young University, where, among other things, she teaches about the Holocaust, Napoleon, Martin Luther King Jr. and that Europe is not a country. She leaves the family to study at Cambridge and Harvard, and eventually breaks contact home.

In 2015, cult leader Balakrishnan is sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape, sexual assault, cruelty and deprivation of liberty. His wife, Chanda, who police arrested at the same time in 2013, is released without charges.

Through his lawyer, the Westover family claims that several elements of educated are wrong, such as Tara Westover's suspicion that her father has a bipolar disorder and that her mother suffers from a brain injury that results in reduced motor skills. The lawyer claims that educated gives a distorted picture of Westover's parents.

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