Among India's Revolutionary Guerrillas
A first-hand account of India’s widespread leftist insurgency, and the state’s brutal response.
In one of the world’s most intractable and under-reported rebellions, the Naxalites have been engaged in a decades-long battle with the Indian state. Presented in the media as a deadly terrorist group, the movement is made up of Marxist ideologues and lower-caste and tribal combatants who seek to overthrow a system that has abused them.
In 2010, anthropologist Alpa Shah embarked on a seven-night trek with some of these communist guerrillas, walking 250 kilometres through the dense, hilly forests of eastern India. Speaking to leaders and living for years with villagers in guerrilla strongholds, Shah seeks to understand how and why some of India’s poor have shunned the world’s largest democracy and taken up arms to fight for a fairer society—and asks whether they might be undermining their own aims.
Nightmarch is a compelling reflection on dispossession and conflict at the heart of contemporary India.
Alpa Shah was raised in Nairobi, studied at Cambridge and completed her PhD at the LSE, where she now teaches anthropology. She is the author of In the Shadows of the State and a co-author of Ground Down by Growth. She presented the radio documentary ‘India’s Red Belt’ for BBC Radio 4’s 'Crossing Continents'.
‘A story that could not be more important, told with the perfect balance of clear-eyed realism, thoughtful criticism, and deep and abiding love. Shah brings the Indian forests to life, from the terrors and intimate details of daily existence to the visions of the future that move rebels to risk everything. Nightmarch reveals what anthropology can do in the hands of a master willing to take genuine risks in the name of human freedom.’ — David Graeber, author of Bullshit Jobs and Debt: The First 5000 Years
‘Nightmarch is an outstanding work, combining ethnographic depth with almost cinematic vividness. From an extraordinary inside perspective, Shah reveals a complex interplay among the Naxalites of political ideals, cultural values, personal attachments, and the lure of money.’ — Sherry B. Ortner, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, UCLA
‘Compassionate, courageous and uncommonly observant. This is an extraordinary work of rigorous, reflective and deeply engaged scholarship, full of unexpected insights. At the same time, it manages to be haunting, lyrical, occasionally harrowing, even racy—more compelling than some of the best fiction writing.’ — Harsh Mander, author of Fatal Accidents of Birth, Looking Away and Ash in the Belly
‘An eloquent and compassionate account of revolutionaries whose voices are rarely heard. Shah skilfully analyses the individual motivations for the Naxalites’ radical commitment, their failures, and the deep history of exploitation and neglect that has provoked their struggle for liberation.’ — David Lan, theatre producer and author of Guns and Rain
‘Brave, brilliant and beautifully written, Nightmarch is an anthropological tour de force. Shah portrays the Naxalites’ revolutionary dedication with love, respect and analytical acumen, while laying bare the tragic contradictions of their armed struggle.’ — Philippe Bourgois, author of In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio and Righteous Dopefiend
‘Riveting, finely textured, and acutely perceptive, Nightmarch captures both the Naxalite insurgency’s contradictions and its human promise against the background of the crippling indignities and exclusions of Indian society. It is a model of what ethnography can offer.’ — James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University