Seven nights among India’s communist guerrillas

Alpa Shah

Seven nights among India’s communist guerrillas

14 December 2018

Priyanka Mogul, Communications Officer

Ever wondered what it’s like to live among one of the world’s most intractable and under-reported rebellions?

Anthropologist Alpa Shah joined us at Asia House to discuss her new book Nightmarch: Among India’s Revolutionary Guerrillas, which documents her journey on a night trek with the country’s communist fighters. The Naxalites have been engaged in a decades-long battle with the Indian state, often presented in the media as a deadly terrorist group. They are made up of Marxist ideologues and lower-caste and tribal combatants, who seek to overthrow a system that they feel has abused them.

In her new book, Nightmarch, Alpa interviews leaders and villagers living on the movement’s periphery in an attempt to understand why some of India’s poor have chosen to shun the world’s largest democracy. Alpa was joined on stage by writer Kavita Jindal, who opened the discussion by asking why Alpa chose to write her book in a non-academic style, despite her background.

“I felt that the stories from the people that I lived with were so compelling and important; they needed to be heard beyond an academic context, within a wider audience,” Alpa replied.

She went on to note that journalists and activists are often turned away from the Naxalite regions, which means that there is little information available about them. However, during her time with them she found out that the ordinary Adivasi person doesn’t join the Naxalites because they’re believers in Marxist or Leninist ideas. Instead, she realised that most of them join because of what the development process has done to their communities, and some even join for trivial reasons – such as because of an argument with their parents.

“We need a radical change in the way the Indian state operates; a state that cares about those at the bottom end of society,” said Alpa. “I hope that the reader will go with me on this journey that is true to the people I spent time with.”

Alpa was speaking on 18 October during the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival.