Trigger Warning- Sexual Harassment
As survivors of sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of the same man, Prem Ayyathurai, and as his former friends, we write this addressed to the public at large in the hope that no other woman will ever fall prey to him again. Intimate relationship abuse, be it sexual, emotional, or physical, has devastating consequences. We hope that in sharing this with you, we may all become more cognisant in recognising signs of abuse around us, and to encourage those who have suffered to speak up.
We have no doubt that there are other women he has abused, who have not spoken up yet — his behaviour, as is evident from these testimonies itself, is a pattern. The first three testimonies are by survivors. The following four are by close friends of his, who were privy to the circumstances surrounding his abusive behaviour.
To anyone else who wishes to speak up or reach out, please write in at [email protected]. We believe you and are here for you.
X • October 2013 — September 2014
I was 18 when I first met Prem Ayyathurai. He was 22. Our politics were similar and I connected with him instantly. I started helping him on a project bringing together politically-sensitive students to organise a festival of dissent across India. He told me that he was going through a break up with his girlfriend at the time. He started flirting with me from the day he met me and I didn’t realise at that point that he would do that with almost every woman he would speak to. We became close over the course of the next few months. He was my best friend, my support system. We eventually started dating. I had never dated anyone before him. He was the first person I had sex with. My idea of a relationship was what I had with this man. He portrayed to me that he did not want to tell anybody that he was with me because he feared that his ex-girlfriend would know and she would make things difficult for him. I believed him. But I did not realise that he was still dating her when he started dating me. He kept me in the dark.
“He knew I was uncomfortable with his sexual fantasies but he would blackmail me into them. He would often force these activities on me when I was drunk and could not stop him. When I would bring up my discomfort with him, he would either keep silent or blame me for not keeping him happy. He was making me believe that the relationship was failing because of me. When I would be upset with his behaviour, he would tell me that my mood changes very quickly and tried to convince me that I had bipolar disorder.”
Over the course of the year that we were together, I was emotionally and sexually abused. I was humiliated and silenced. He knew very well that I was very uncomfortable with anal sex. But he didn’t care and manipulated me into it. On one occasion, I repeatedly asked him to stop, but he didn’t. I bled after a few hours. I couldn’t sit properly for days. I went numb. Prem didn’t understand consent. On another occasion, he took off his condom while having sex with me, which I didn’t notice. When I brought it up with him he casually brushed it aside and got me a pill. He didn’t want to talk about it. When I was sick, he joked about the possibility of me being pregnant.
I could not comprehend what was happening to me. All I knew was that I really loved this man and wanted to be with him. He kept promising me that he was aware of his shortcomings; that he loved me and wanted to be with me and showed willingness to change. I believed him and did not realise that I was being fooled. He knew I was uncomfortable with his sexual fantasies but he would blackmail me into them. He would often force these activities on me when I was drunk and could not stop him. When I would bring up my discomfort with him, he would either keep silent or blame me for not keeping him happy. He was making me believe that the relationship was failing because of me. When I would be upset with his behaviour, he would tell me that my mood changes very quickly and tried to convince me that I had bipolar disorder. He would body shame me by telling me that I had grown fat and he was no longer attracted to me.
The stress caused by this situation was ruining my studies and health drastically. And one fine day, Prem messaged me saying that he had started dating somebody else since I couldn’t keep him happy. He cheated on me. I instantly threw up when I read his message. I was suicidal that night and he absolutely did not care. He aggressively silenced me and kept blaming me for keeping him unhappy sexually. He said that he didn’t cheat on me, but rather I had cheated on him by not keeping him happy. I tried to confide in a few of our mutual friends who I was close to at that time. When I did this, he blamed me for defaming him and taking his friends away from him. I don’t know whether or not they believed me at that point, but I certainly lost their friendship. One of them silenced me by calling me hysteric and blaming me for harassing them. Another one blamed me for choosing to date him. I had become the villain in their eyes. I was terrified of him. I would break down if I would see him. I cut contact with everyone associated with Prem. I went into a shell. At that point I felt like I had not only lost him, but lost a family. I lost my closest friends and blamed myself for it for a long time. This is an extremely common method of abuse and he did exactly that — he isolated me from my friends, whatever little support system I had.
Over the course of the next year, my health was very delicate. I developed very severe gastric ailments. I slipped into depression and developed anxiety. I could not comprehend what I had gone through in that relationship. It has taken me years to come out of this and understand my abuse. It has taken me years to rebuild my physical and mental health. I never wanted this to happen to anybody else. I really wish I had the courage to write this earlier; the women who have suffered after me wouldn’t have suffered. I feel extremely heartbroken to know that this happened to Y and Z after me. There might be many other women who I don’t know about. This has to stop. This man has a clear pattern of manipulating women and abusing them. I sincerely hope that no woman has to ever go through what I have gone through at the hands of this man. I am writing this with the objective of helping others understand the ways in which abuse can manifest. Please don’t suffer in silence, there is support out there.
Y • June 2014 — July 2015
Prem Ayyathurai and I met through a lawyer who both of us had interned with at different points in time, who suggested I get in touch with him since I was considering writing the CLAT. A month before I started my first year at law school (I was 18), which was a month after Prem had graduated from there (he was 23), we began a romantic relationship which lasted for a year and a month.
Over the course of the year that I dated him I was subjected to sexual and emotional abuse — which I’ve only ever referred to as abuse in retrospect, because when it was happening I’d been convinced that I deserved it. Prem was the first person I’d ever had sex with, and he was well aware of this fact. This should have been all the more reason for him to respect my boundaries and allow me to take my time, but ended up serving as a convenient excuse for him to constantly test those boundaries through extremely uncomfortable questioning, and proceeding to trample on them when it actually came to us having sex. In an incident shockingly similar to what Z recounts below, he once slapped me in the middle of sex, without us ever having spoken about it. This was early into our relationship, and my disapproval at that time was abundantly clear; I refused to say a word to him, and he apologised multiple times and promised he’d never do it again, and he didn’t. On multiple occasions, however, he responded in a really aggressive, manipulative manner (shouting at me, refusing to look at me or touch me for the rest of the night) on refusal of consent to a sexual act, or even if I took too long to think before saying yes. When I think about what it was that I was apprehensive of saying yes to, it still makes me nauseous, because it was truly an outrageous request on his part. It was nothing but fear on my part that even made me tell him I was “thinking about it” instead of saying no outright because he’d already labelled me a prude.
“…the emotional abuse was much more damaging, its effects longer lasting than the sexual abuse could ever have been. I was constantly spoken down to, both in terms of tone and language. Any resistance I displayed was brushed off by him as being a consequence of my not having read enough, of my not knowing enough. I remember him referring to me as ‘his property’, which I instantly took issue with, but was told that I’d been fed silly, pop-culture notions of feminism.”
I remember once attempting to verbally (as best I could, through a muffled shout) and physically resist a sexual act, only to have my hand slapped away and my resistance ignored. I remember him laughing when I brought my discomfort up with him after it was over. I was subjected to extremely humiliating sexual acts when I was certainly too drunk to have resisted, and when I suggested the next day that I was uncomfortable, was aggressively shot down again. I remember one specific occasion when he urinated on me — I remember so clearly that when he did it I was too drunk to even hold my own head up. Beyond this, however, I’d rather not furnish every little detail. A mutual friend quoted him as having said to her, “I enjoy humiliating women in bed, especially feminists.” Unfortunately, this information was not relayed to me until months had passed after the relationship had ended.
It kills me to admit it, and it isn’t a contest, of course, but the emotional abuse was much more damaging, its effects longer lasting than the sexual abuse could ever have been. I was constantly spoken down to, both in terms of tone and language. Any resistance I displayed was brushed off by him as being a consequence of my not having read enough, of my not knowing enough. I remember him referring to me as ‘his property’, which I instantly took issue with, but was told that I’d been fed silly, pop-culture notions of feminism, which is the only reason I could possibly have an issue with being called that. So I let it go.
Prem also seemed convinced that I was cheating on him, and on multiple occasions tried to pressure me into ‘admitting’ that I had, in fact, cheated. I remember crying on the phone the day after a hazy law school party where I’d been drinking, with him insisting that I must have hooked up with someone and just forgotten. I remember him belligerently asking me, “why don’t you just suck his dick while you’re at it?” on me telling him that I’d had lunch (yes, lunch) with a male friend after class one day. This seems laughable knowing what I know about him now, which is that he hadn’t been faithful for a minute.
His behaviour towards me was a textbook case of gaslighting — within months of our relationship having begun, he’d managed to convince me that I was ‘fucked up’ in ways that only he knew how to handle, that nobody else would be willing to ‘tolerate’. He’d repeatedly say things to me like I didn’t know how to speak to people, that I should only speak to dogs because that’s the only communication I’m capable of — the anecdotes are endless, but that is a rabbit hole I do not wish to go down. His ability to flip the narrative was shocking, though, ignoring the five-year age difference between us, any protest against his words and actions on my part was made out to be a product of my privilege, and in turn insinuating (and sometimes explicitly alleging) a further oppression of his caste identity.
One year after the relationship had ended, Prem asked to meet me when he’d come down to campus, and spent an hour apologising to me. Not for the emotional and sexual abuse, of course, but for the terrible way in which things had ended between us. I asked him if he realised that he’d managed to convince me that it was I who was abusive of him — and he responded saying that it was only because he was in such a dark place at the time that he truly believed it. I chose to accept his apology at the time; it seemed so genuine. But apologies are absolutely nothing more than mere acknowledgement of one’s actions unless they are coupled with an effort to change and tangible work towards that. The testimony of Z as to his behaviour after that makes abundantly clear that there was no such effort made, and the sheer extent of his abuse of other women makes clear that there could not possibly have been any intention to change, either.
Prem had once told me how there was a running joke in his (law school) batch — that all the women he dates end up needing therapy. I’d laughed it off then. In hindsight, I wish I could have picked up on that red flag and literally run away. The reason I’ve included the ‘running joke’ as a part of my story is this — that too often, we witness abuse taking place before our very eyes and yet insist on giving the benefit of the doubt. This is something I’ve been guilty of as well — I’ve been well-aware of the reputation of certain people as being predatory or simply creepy, and yet looked the other way. If anything, the past few months have made painfully clear that when it comes to rumours of sexual abuse and predatory behaviour, there is rarely ever smoke without fire. We must all do better in recognising abuse for what it is, regardless of whether it takes place within the confines of the most intimate of relationships.
Z • July 2015 — September 2017
I was in a domestic partnership with Prem Ayyathurai for over two years. Through the course of this relationship, I would come to realise how the respect and trust I invested in my then partner would be misused to emotionally and sexually abuse me on multiple occasions. It took the added jolt of Prem’s promiscuities and lies to finally awaken me to the reality of my situation.
I met Prem through a dating app. I was 25, he, a year younger. He moved into my house after a few dates. He told me that he had been in a dark place in his life and that I was his respite. That I had ‘turned a street rat into a house rat’. Little did I know how ominous those words were.
I admired how well-read and intelligent he was, how politically aware. Prem was quite well-known by social activists as well as law students. He had many admirers, disciples even. He had an astounding ability to sway people’s opinions with his words. Many young people reached out to him for advice and help and he ‘cultivated’ them. He would make them feel very special — send them material to read, check in on them, mentor them. Many of them relied on him to make important life decisions.
He introduced me to his parents as the woman he was going to marry. We had been together for less than a month. He suggested getting married very early on in the relationship. He seemed terribly sure, said there was no point delaying something if you were certain. I remember feeling flattered but also nervous. Eventually, my parents urged me to delay my decision until we had been together a little longer. He was upset about my reluctance but accepted grudgingly.
Prem called me ‘wife’. Someone who would support him in all that he intended to do, politically. In his activism and interactions with people. Prem made me believe that this was the role I was to play in his life — a life in which he imagined himself as a leader to many, creating a new type of political discourse.
My family also recognised him as my life partner. He was invited to all important family gatherings. My grandfather sent him books for his research and discussed academic writing with him. My grandmother happily obliged to his demands for sabudana khichdi. My mother took him out for coffee when he was low and spent hours online helping him find employment opportunities when he decided to quit his job.
Up until this point, this reads as would any story of an intense and rapidly escalating relationship. This is also the point where the facade of this man I had grown to admire and respect and love begins to come apart.
A few months into the relationship, Prem chose a moment when I was immobile and urinated on me. It was not a case of him having discussed or requested an unusual sexual act in advance. No consent sought, no warnings given.
Prem then slapped me in the middle of sex. This, again, without warning. I had just been assaulted in the middle of an intimate moment. I felt humiliated, not to mention the physical pain I experienced. When I expressed my discomfort about these episodes, he reduced our sexual contact to a bare minimum.
He withheld sex as punishment for not playing by his rules. Prem claimed he wanted to do ‘kinky’ things in bed and that I was ‘too nice’ to even warrant a conversation about it.
I tried to talk to him several times but in vain. He had determined the limits of my sexuality and my behaviour had ‘shown him that I was not capable of having the sex that he wanted to have’. Whenever we did have sex, it was solely on his terms. He had worn me down to a point where I would submit to whatever he wanted. So when he slapped me the next time, and several times thereafter, I stopped saying no.
Eventually, the majority of our infrequent sexual activity involved Prem summarily inserting himself into me in the middle of the night while I was still asleep with not so much as a warning, leave alone foreplay or consent. When I protested against this, he stopped having sex with me altogether.
What kind of sex is this, that one cannot talk about and which can only be inflicted on someone without their consent?
I remember one of the last few times Prem and I had sex. He had my head stuffed in a pillow, facing away from him and I wept as he entered me. He didn’t even notice. In that moment, I was no one. I had been robbed of my personhood. I remember telling him afterwards that I was done with this anonymous sex; sex devoid of intimacy, eye contact, feeling. That’s all I had the heart to call it. Anonymous.
It took Y referring to what happened to me as rape in her first testimony earlier this year, for me to come to terms with the fact that this is what it actually was. Rape.
“One might ask, why did you not leave this person earlier if things were so terrible? I stayed in a bad, abusive relationship because I loved my abuser. I believed that it was alright for what appeared to be a charismatic, powerful man to be an abuser because such men are ‘allowed’ to be so.”
Sometime in the first year of our relationship, Prem went into a shell for about a week, barely eating or speaking. When I finally got him to talk, he told me that he was afraid. Afraid that his political career would get derailed because a woman he had been in a relationship with in the past, X, was out to malign his reputation by calling him an abuser. He told me how he had said a few nasty things to her, which he regretted deeply but this woman had ‘taken the whole thing out of context’ and started a smear campaign against him. I felt sympathetic towards him.
I offered to contact X, who I didn’t know at all, to speak to her. To tell her to let go of the past. He warned me against it. I asked some of his friends as well, whether they knew this woman and had heard her account. They all told me not to pay heed to the ‘rumours she was floating.’ This entire incident should have alarmed me but by this point I had been so systematically manipulated by Prem that I could not draw parallels between her account and my own life. It was only when I spoke to X after my relationship had ended, that I discovered the truth that Prem had concealed underneath multiple layers of lies.
In September 2017, Prem happened to leave several browser windows open on my laptop. I discovered that he had cheated on me from the very beginning of our relationship, never once asking to end things between us. A different online identity, a secret email address, video chats, dick pics taken in the bathroom of the home we shared; scores of emails to different women, sending images, asking for images, some with long, detailed, well researched lists of reference photos and GIFs from various porn sites. Other emails, sent to female friends, seeking sympathy for his ‘lonely, difficult life’. I also discovered that Prem had been having sex with at least one other woman over the entire course of our relationship. In fact, he had cheated on Y with the same woman as well. Neither Y nor I were aware of this when it was happening.
Two years and three homes later, this was the last straw. Yes, it was the cheating and not the abuse that finally made me end things. Perhaps I needed to see the truth laid bare for me to act in my own interest.
One might ask, why did you not leave this person earlier if things were so terrible? I stayed in a bad, abusive relationship because I loved my abuser. I believed that it was alright for what appeared to be a charismatic, powerful man to be an abuser because such men are ‘allowed’ to be so.
I write this today in the hope that:
1. No one else falls prey to this man again.
2. No woman who finds herself in such a situation feels the need to stay back and fix a damaged and abusive person at the cost of her own health and well being.
3. If someone is in a situation like this today, know that you are not alone.
Stay strong. Speak up. Get help. Get out. This is what I have learnt.
I have known Prem Ayyathurai for over 20 years. We were best friends, or as he used to say — brothers. On 15th October 2017, we met at a dingy bar called Gokul in Colaba. Prem had wanted to meet because he wished to ‘confess’ something. Just a few days prior to this meeting, he had messaged all of us (his close friends) that he and Z were no longer together and that it was over. I assumed it was this that he wished to speak about.
In the past, especially after we left our hometown of Pune in 2009, Prem had never confided much in me regarding his romantic relationships. It always used to be Sahil or another friend, who was a part of the same close friend circle. The extent of our conversations regarding his love life were only limited to how everything was — good, bad, tough, better, etc. He had never shared anything at length with me about his previous relationships.
Prem began his confession by saying that his sexual preferences had ended most of his previous relationships. The exact words he used were that he ‘contributes to a kink forum,’ without getting into any details. He no longer wanted to hide his sexual preferences, he said. What he conveniently failed to mention, and what I found out a few hours later from Sahil, was that not only was his sexuality not a secret to his partner, but that he had forced various sexual acts on her without her consent. I asked Prem if he had cheated on Z. Without any hesitation, he said that he hadn’t. Later I found out that he, in fact, had cheated on Z, and it was this that had finally ended the relationship. Prem wanted me to believe that the reason they separated was because Z had discovered his aliases on the kink forum on her laptop, nothing else. No abuse, no cheating.
That is what he is. Manipulative. With the glorious benefit of hindsight, it has actually taken a year to sink in, how most of his actions were extremely calculated, how naturally he manipulated people. Sahil probably says it best, below — he treats people as resources. Prem was the golden child of our school. He is, to this day, revered and fondly thought of by many of our teachers. A brilliant orator for his age, extremely intelligent, and a womaniser. We used to joke about how he flirted with so many women. He used to boast about the fact the he had grazed a girl’s thigh in kindergarten. Looking back, it just feels so wrong.
“Yes Prem, I cannot understand. I really cannot understand how a person who says that he fights for equality and dignity can sexually and emotionally abuse multiple women and humiliate them. I cannot understand how you had the guts to take advantage of the only people who have stood by you for over 20-odd years, and use that to sexually and emotionally abuse women. I cannot understand how you have failed to understand the notion of consent, especially considering the causes you have fought for till now. You need help.”
In that conversation a year ago, Prem portrayed himself as the victim owing to his sexual preferences as well as his caste identity. It was the first time in my life he had done this to victimise himself in front of me. All of these lies, he told me to my face, looking directly into my eyes, without so much as a flinch. And the foolish, gullible person that I was, I believed it. I did tell him that he had wronged many people in his life, but I felt like he should be given a fair chance to speak to the people whom he is close to.
We worshipped Prem, we looked up to him. For many of us, he was the one who played the biggest role in shaping our political minds. And just like we see similar examples in society, we too overlooked some of his flaws because of the genius we thought him to be.
Prem would always tell a different version of events to different people, including his closest friends. This he did especially in the case of his romantic relationships. Nobody knew the full story, and I used to brush it off telling myself that there must be a reason and I should give him space. I would always take whatever he said at face value, whether it was the time he told us how X is a crazy and vengeful person and wants to get back at him because he broke up with her, or the time where we sat in Gokul a year ago where he defiantly said that he had not cheated on Z. Now I just feel stupid and ashamed that I didn’t listen to X when she had first contacted us or when there were just so many signs right in front of our eyes that we chose to ignore for our best friend.
We did meet once again, earlier this year. It was probably the least constructive conversation I’ve had in my life, because everything my friends and I asked him was answered with, “I did it because it had to be done”, or “I lied to save myself”. And in his habit of self-victimisation, he also went on to (again) use his identity implying some sort of discriminatory vendetta against him, and then belittle and insult our intelligence by calmly saying that he “did not expect us to understand these things”.
Yes Prem, I cannot understand. I really cannot understand how a person who says that he fights for equality and dignity can sexually and emotionally abuse multiple women and humiliate them. I cannot understand how you had the guts to take advantage of the only people who have stood by you for over 20-odd years, and use it to sexually and emotionally abuse women. I cannot understand how you have failed to understand the notion of consent, especially considering the causes you have fought for till now. You need help.
I write all of this for a multitude of reasons, but none more important than the fact that I believe all of the women who have come out and spoken against Prem, and I wish to stand with them and make sure their voices are heard. This past year has opened my eyes (through extremely unfortunate circumstances) to the real meaning of the words ‘trust’, ‘abuse’, and ‘consent’. It is important that all of us talk about these words and what they mean. We live in a culture that makes us instinctively brush the truth under the carpet if it makes us uncomfortable. By doing so, we are adding to the cycle of abuse which grows more vicious by the second.
In October 2017, Z called to inform me that she had ended her relationship with Prem Ayyathurai — my best friend of 15 years — about two weeks ago. Surprisingly, Prem had neither called, nor texted me. She said that she was reaching out to me and Prem’s sister because, as the people closest to him, we needed to know about his sexually predatory nature. Although this wasn’t the first time I had heard about his misbehaviour in a romantic relationship, the horrific details of his abuse of Z left me shaken.
It has taken me a year to fully comprehend the deviousness that Prem is capable of. I am writing this today to warn women (and men) to be wary of Prem Ayyathurai.
Prem and I became instant friends in 7th grade while preparing for our first inter-school debate competition. He spoke exclusively in English, with an awe-inspiring command over the language. He was articulate, insightful, and an excellent communicator. All this earned him a unique following. Not everybody liked him, but everybody agreed that there was something charismatic about him. I had never imagined that Prem would use this charisma to pursue and goad women into doing things they didn’t want to.
Even at 16, Prem was extremely well-read and informed. He inspired and mobilised a group of about 150 students from various colleges to come together, discuss, and engage in political processes. He spoke passionately about issues that we didn’t know much about like the plight of manual scavengers, the struggles of Dalits, the need for reservations, etc. For us, he was a political genius. We saw him as our leader and wanted to be close to him.
Prem enjoyed this attention, and sought to grow his network, aggressively. At every social gathering, he made it a point to speak to each and every person present, individually. Whenever he met a new person, he would chat with them, take their phone number, and continue the conversation over messages and emails. He’d curate this exchange to make them feel special, as if he’d only been thinking about them. He would say that you have to invest in people to keep them motivated. What a visionary, we all thought. I found out later that he’d used this very network, the one he had so meticulously built through social justice movements, to engage with multiple women at the same time.
Junior college was the time when people started dating. It was no secret that Prem was popular among the women of this group. We noticed how Prem was never not seeing someone. As soon as one relationship ended, he was in another one, without any gap. Back then, we admiringly attributed this to his charming personality. In hindsight, however, it is obvious that there were infidelities involved in ensuring continuous courtships, which is why Prem’s consistent cheating (that I learned about last year), as disturbing as it is, doesn’t surprise me.
Towards the end of 2014, X told me about the persistent emotional abuse he had put her through, I repeatedly advised her to stay away from him and cut all ties with him. When I confronted Prem about this, he convinced me that she was mentally unstable. Rubbishing all allegations of abuse, he claimed that he, in fact, was the real victim, as she was ‘out to malign his image’. Every time I brought up some or the other allegations against him, he resorted to manipulation, deception, and omission to obfuscate the conversation, and convinced me that he was working on himself; he was going to make amends. I believed him.
When dealing with constant problems from Prem’s relationships with women became too tiring, I distanced myself from his romantic life. Later I would find out that it wasn’t relationship drama, but his abuse of his victims that I had turned my back on. By choosing to believe my best friend, I had ignored X’s pain and trauma. I apologise for my behaviour in this matter and wish that I had done more.
“After much thought and reflection, I’ve realised that there is a pattern in which Prem exploits people around him. He regards people as resources. Everyone serves a purpose in his life — social, political, financial, or sexual. He is adept at quashing dissenting voices around him to safeguard his narrative of the truth. Using his talent of quickly identifying your deepest desires and fears, he forges a strong bond with you. This makes you and your circle vulnerable to his predatory nature, as it did to me, and my network of friends.”
Months after separating from Z in 2017, when Harsh, Dhruvang, another close friend (testimony below), and I met Prem in 2018 to hear his side, he claimed that one of the reasons for their break-up was the ‘brahminical ways’ in which she and her family treated him. This is an outlandish claim because earlier, when he told me about Z’s family, he couldn’t stop talking about how they were progressive, revolutionaries (terms Prem wouldn’t use lightly), and involved in some of the most culturally important work there is. He couldn’t stop gushing about the social capital they enjoyed.
He owned up to the cheating but showed no remorse. He accepted that he had lied to us by omission, but gave no explanation for the same. Every time we tried to understand why he had deceived us for so long, he kept mechanically repeating that he did what he thought was right at the time. He denied perpetrating any abuse, and, once again, maintained that he was in fact a victim.
The highly misleading tale of his break-up with Z that Prem fed Harsh, is a classic technique that Prem has used multiple times in the past. Every story he tells has at least 2-3 versions. Certain details are embellished in one version and in the other, they are conspicuously concealed. Different versions are revealed to different people. Each person is made to feel that they are being let in on a secret, and therefore mustn’t discuss it with others. Over the past year, Harsh, Dhruvang, and I discovered how each of us was given a different account of all his relationships and how they eventually ended.
After much thought and reflection, I’ve realised that there is a pattern in which Prem exploits people around him. He regards people as resources. Everyone serves a purpose in his life — social, political, financial, or sexual. He is adept at quashing dissenting voices around him to safeguard his narrative of the truth. Using his talent of quickly identifying your deepest desires and fears, he forges a strong bond with you. This makes you and your circle vulnerable to his predatory nature, as it did to me, and my network of friends.
We grow up hearing a great deal about trust. There’s an open discussion about how to identify people who can be trusted and those who can’t. We constantly learn about it and navigate it in our daily lives. But, unfortunately, there’s a taboo surrounding an issue closely connected with trust — abuse. Instead of protecting us, the silence surrounding abuse harms us and perpetuates the cycle further.
No one talks to us about how to understand abuse; how to detect it; how to report it; or how to deal with it. I am deeply wounded by the fact that my best friend has hurt women so grievously. I believe the women who have spoken up against Prem and respect their strength in doing so.
If you suspect abuse around you, investigate. Don’t distance yourself, engage.
I have known Prem Ayyathurai since my first grade, which is for over twenty years now. All this while, he had not only been a best friend to me, but also someone I looked up to as a visionary and a great leader. He is an exceptional orator, coupled with being the most intelligent person I have met in my life. Little did I know that he would go on to abuse these very strengths to a very sinister end.
I have discovered some disturbing things about Prem’s character in the past year. On more than one occasion, I had come across accounts from his ex-girlfriends of his abuse, harassment and infidelity. And yes, there were many — something that we had lost count of. We, as his close friends, had turned a blind eye to the fact that he had so many relationships with a lot of overlaps between them; smiling it off with “It’s just Prem. Such a womaniser.” Never did I try to find out more about why his relationships always ended on a bad note, and how he was in another relationship just after (or mostly, even before) the earlier one ended. I took his word for it, which always was that it was he who was the victim. And without ever stopping to think, I would start sympathising with him, taking care of the ‘trauma’ he was feeling.
On one such account, Prem’s ex-girlfriend, X tried to get in touch with me. I was living with Prem at that point, and he had already moved on to Y. (I later came to know that he had actually been dating both X and Y for a period of 4 months, without either knowing of the other). X was a common friend, and we had worked together in a social organisation that Prem, X and I were a part of. I met her after her break-up with Prem and immediately noticed how famished she looked. The purpose of meeting her, to me, was to calm her down and help her in any way I could, to get over Prem.
The conversations we had over dinner were uneasy, awkward sometimes. I was making an effort to steer our conversations clear of Prem, but I could also sense the restlessness in her voice as she kept asking me how he was doing. Finally, on our way back in a cab, she asked me for help. She said she had been cheated upon and blackmailed by Prem. She was on the verge of breaking down when I was about to get out of the cab. I just tried to calm her and told her to stay away from Prem as the only way she would be able to get over him.
As soon as I returned home, I narrated the incident to Prem. First, he appeared shocked and kind of panicked when he came to know I’d met X. Throughout the narration, he laughed and convinced me that it was she, in fact, who was mentally ill. He said “she was out to get him” and “ruin his reputation”. And he asked me to break any communication with her, as that would only encourage her behaviour. Again, I took it at face value.
Over the following few days, she texted me about how difficult it was for her. She was trying to confide in me. But my mind, due to the conditioning of over 18 years, had already decided ‘whose side I was on’. I gave short, distant replies. I made fun of her ‘melodramatic’ texts — showed them to Prem and laughed them off.
I later came to know from her that Prem had confronted her, asked her to stay away from his friends and blackmailed her from sharing her account with anyone else. It is at this point that she ended relations with me, when she realised all her texts to me were directly reaching Prem. The last message I sent her was, “It was nice knowing you. But I am Prem’s best friend and will always be on his side. Please get some help.”
A few years later, in 2017, Prem had another breakup with his then partner, Z. I was shocked as he had said this was a serious relationship and that she was the one he was thinking of marrying. The relationship had lasted extremely long by his standards. He met our group of close friends and again, he said how he was a victim here, due to his lack of getting his sexual needs satisfied, his economic status and his caste. He also said she was not accommodating and made fun of his sexual habits, disregarded his strong feelings about caste. This, he said made him slide into depression. I instantly again took his word for it and my mind went into the feeling-sorry-for-him mode.
However Sahil, a mutual close friend this time, knew Z’s account and saw through his lies. He told us the extent of abuse he had put her through and for the first time, we saw Prem for what he was. Years of constructed imagery broke down and we saw how he was lying to us all these years, while he was out exploiting and sexually abusing so many women.
I could draw parallels between X and Z’s accounts. I realised how not only had he lied to me, used me in his exploits but also made me part of his abuse. I realised how my complacency, harassment, even, must have impacted a survivor of sexual abuse. The first thing I had to do was to call X up and apologise. I did just that, and could not believe that she forgave me. She said the apology was late in coming, but now that it had come, it was the best she had felt in years. I felt some relief, but also knew that I had caused some damage that must have been difficult to get over.
In hindsight, I wish I had handled the situation differently though I did not understand then, how important it is not to get into a mere ‘he said/she said’ situation and choose sides, but rather act based on one’s knowledge of power dynamics in a relationship. I did not understand how complicated intimate relationship abuse can be. Unfortunately, someone else had to bear the consequences of my lack of understanding. It will be something I shall repent for the rest of my life.
“…the objective of writing this testimonial is not to get back at Prem, at all. It is to tell you how you may be a participant in abuse by being complicit. When a survivor of sexual abuse approaches you, it is of utmost importance to make her feel comfortable, no matter how close you are to the alleged perpetrator. If you fail to do so, you are participating in, and adding to the abuse.”
I was living with him, for over 2 years in a small 225 sq.ft. apartment in Prabhadevi. It had two small rooms without a door between them. I once found a very disturbing kind of porn website and chat forum open on my laptop. I had shrugged it off as a possible pop-up then. Later, after I came to know of the full extent of Prem’s sexually predatory nature, I realised that it was in fact an adult chatting forum, where he was trying to hook up with new girls, under an online alias. He had his own laptop, but still used mine. All this while I was just in the other room. All this, while he was dating (at least) one other person. Frequently, his new girlfriend, Y would stay over while I would be sleeping just a wall across. The same girl would later go on to testify how he abused her in that very space. It disturbs me to think that on many of these accounts, I might have been sleeping just a few feet away, oblivious to what was happening. But that is the tragedy over all these years — I was just a shout away for all the girls he abused, harassed and blackmailed; but still far enough to not hear.
I have always been proud of my views against blind faith. It is therefore extremely ironic that I myself placed my trust blindly in someone, and let it be taken advantage of; abused even. It may not be an exaggeration to compare myself to the blind bhakt of a ‘bhondu’ (as Dr. Dabholkar used to refer to them) who only gives more power to the latter, further enabling him in his exploitative actions. But not anymore.
Therefore, the objective of writing this testimony is not to get back at Prem at all. It is to tell how you may be a participant in abuse by being complicit. When a survivor of sexual abuse approaches you, it is of utmost importance to make her feel comfortable, no matter how close you are to the alleged perpetrator. If you fail to do so, you are participating in and adding to the abuse. The objective here, is that mutual friends who might be potential targets, or like me, complicit in his acts get to know Prem’s real self, and become wary of his exploits. We know a few accounts of his abuse, but I am sure many may have been silent until now.
The aim is to say that we, as Prem’s former best friends stand by you. He will no longer be spared of not being judged by the same moral compass that we judge everyone else by. Last year, we gave him a chance to explain himself. This time, however we could see through all the lies and attempts at manipulation and we have since broken ties with him. That, and making other potential targets of his abuse aware is the only thing we can do now, to make amends.
The last time I met Prem face-to-face, I realised his true self. Even then, he tried his best to manipulate, lie and play the victim. I eventually got fed up as I could see through it this time around. Before I left, I promised him that if I was ever convinced that he is a threat to women around him, I would do all that I could to stop him. After reading the accounts of X, Y and Z together, I have no doubt that he is a real and looming threat. And therefore, I will leave no stone unturned in standing by the survivors and helping their voice be heard.
I am writing this as a former friend of Prem Ayyathurai’s who believed his lies and inadvertently silenced someone else’s trauma. I hope this can serve as a warning to others who may also have gotten trapped in his deceitful ways.
“Even as women, we don’t believe these things till they hit close to home.”
I was first introduced to Prem in 2013, a law student at the time, who along with his then girlfriend, was trying to put together a festival on dissent. I found them to be really genuine people, and Prem came across as extremely charming, articulate and intelligent. I didn’t know him much beyond the conversations and work over the festival.
In 2016, we started working on a project together. This was the first time I heard something disturbing about Prem — that he had raped X, caused her a lot of mental and physical trauma. At first I was shocked to hear this. Prem had become like a brother to me. For someone who was always very vocal about gender rights, caste and social justice, this seemed very unlike him. Perplexed, I asked Prem what was going on. He promptly denied it, and went on to construct a narrative about how X was obsessed with him, wasn’t over him, and had even threatened to kill herself. He said she wanted to destroy his work. He convinced Z, his partner at the time, and I that X was delusional and lying. When Z offered to get in touch with X to resolve this, he expressly refused, claiming that it would only escalate things.
Prem had become so good at projecting himself as this poor, depressed, sensitive soul, going through a financial crisis that we would constantly worry about him. We were led to believe that he was very fragile and needed constant support. Every conversation we had was structured to make him look like the victim, or in some cases, even a hero.
Even as women, you don’t believe these things till they hit close to home.
In October 2017, a devastated Z called to tell me that she had found disturbing evidence of Prem’s cheating and inappropriate sexual advances on Facebook and email. She then broke down and proceeded to tell me about the non-consensual and humiliating sexual acts that Prem had made her go through. I was disgusted and angry. This man had harassed so many women in his life, lied to all his friends, made liars out of his friends and all the while preached about social justice and equality. Prem is a master of persuasion — good with words, knowing exactly what to say to whom and when. And I fell for it. He portrayed himself as a social justice warrior, and used our project as a shield.
I write this to warn those who are still close to Prem, that this man knows exactly how to manipulate everyone around him. I shudder to think how many more women he can take advantage of with his big talk and great ideas. He needs help, and people in his life need to see him for what he really is: a manipulative, gas-lighting, chronic sexual predator.