Night March: among India’s revolutionary guerrillas [London: Hurst & Co. 2018]
In a richly detailed and almost lyrical reading, here is the creative nonfiction elaboration of L.S.E. anthropologist, Dr Alph Shah’s more academic exploration centred on her experience amongst the Adivasis of eastern India. In 2010, engaged in field work research, Alpha Shah embarked on a seven-night trek, walking 250 kilometres through the dense, hilly forests with a column of People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army.
Not many author decides to publish a story that is nearly a decade old. In this instance her account illustrates both sustainability and equilibrium. Ten years on the mixed motives and effects detailed in her account remain potent factors in maintaining and feeding the struggles in the rural rebel heartlands that India’s security and media label a “red corridor”.
Not the format to challenge head on the well-rehearsed counter-insurgency narrative as set out (for instances, with caveats) in Arun Srivastava’s “Maoism in India” [Prabhat Prakashan 2008], however obliquely discussed are such persistent claims and questioning of the romanticising of the struggle as if there were no contradictions amidst the setbacks of the decade since the events of Dr Shah’s literal night march.
The obvious sympathy for those who form the focus of her academic engagement, and desire for social justice has not blunted Dr Shah’s critical gaze. Shah allows the combatants to speak for themselves in her memoir often on contentious concerns that question what seldom appears in partisan propaganda and sometimes erupt in polemical fury. But here, in a statement not dated by time, is a quietly spoken observation from a leading combatant:
“Our capacity has been reduced to the military needs of the war.” In response to the intense state repression, they have increased their attention to the military attacks and counter-attacks at the expense of the political education of their soldiers, the ethical foundation of their cadres and the politicisation of their supporters
Night March provides an insight to a protracted struggle that has no easy answers but could have earth-shattering consequences, and has already, as Shah testifies, a profound effect on individuals.
A useful guide to the contending literature on this under reported struggle, and then too often reduced to a litany of “crime reporting”, comes with the inclusion of Shah’s bibliographic essay on Naxalites and the literature that is “interesting for what it says about the authors and their perspectives as it is for its analysis.”
Link to Reading about the ‘Naxalites’