Nightmarch by Alpa Shah – among India’s Maoist guerrillas

An anthropologist’s nuanced account of life with India’s revolutionary movement, including her 250-km trek, disguised as a male soldier, with a rebel platoon

Between 2008 and 2010, the anthropologist Alpa Shah spent 18 months as a participant observer in India’s largely rural state of Jharkhand. She lived among adivasis, tribal peoples outside the caste system who count among the communities most neglected by the government. Jharkhand is also one of the heartlands of India’s Maoist insurgency, a civil war that in 2006 the country’s prime minister identified as the “biggest internal security threat to the Indian state”. For decades, Indian politicians and commentators have argued about the country’s longstanding Maoist war: are insurgents ideological terrorists fixated on an outdated creed, or are they desperate rebels with a cause, forced to take up guns by state brutality? Dissatisfied by this polarised debate, Shah decided to immerse herself in the communities who ...