NIGHTMARCH: A JOURNEY INTO INDIA’S NAXAL HEARTLANDS BY ALPA SHAH has been shortlisted for the prestigious Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2019


In 2010, a Naxal platoon set out on a seven-night march across 250 kilometres through Bihar and Jharkhand. Among them was Shah – the only woman, the only unarmed person, dressed as a man in an olive-green guerrilla uniform. This is the story of her gritty and revelatory journey.  

 The Orwell Prize is considered to be Britain’s most prestigious award for political writing. Notable among the books previously shortlisted for the recognition include Siddhartha Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India (2012), Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of the Empire (2013) and Rana Dasgupta’s Capital (2015). The winner of the prize will be announced on 25 June, George Orwell’s birth anniversary, at a ceremony in the UK. More details about the prize can be found here:

Shah, a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said, ‘It is a tremendous honour to be shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. Seeing people from beyond India moved by the stories of Adivasis and the Naxalites gives me a sense of hope. It is a hope that in India Nightmarch can challenge stereotypes about terrorism and highlight the injustices of incarcerating thousands of people as alleged Maoists. It is also a hope that Nightmarch might encourage both the Naxalites and the Indian Government to rethink the brutality of their actions. As Orwell said, “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”’

Siddhesh Inamdar, commissioning editor at HarperCollins, said, ‘We are thrilled by the announcement and hope it is the first among many more to follow in the awards season this year. Nightmarch, undoubtedly one of the finest and most important works of non-fiction published in India last year, richly deserves every honour that is coming its way.’

Published in the UK and India in 2018 and in the US this year, Nightmarch featured on a number of year-end ‘best books’ lists and has been garnering wide international acclaim.

Praise for nightmarch

‘An exceptional undertaking … one of the most nuanced, informed accounts yet of a strange and awful conflict.’ – Julia Lovell, The Guardian

‘A careful, rich, sympathetic account of the Maoist insurgency in India … a brave and necessary work.’ – Neel Mukherjee, The New Statesman’s list of best books of 2018

‘Subtle and moving … It combines powerful first-hand description – as gripping as any novel – with analysis which understands the rebel’s motivations and backgrounds without ever falling into simplistic political binaries.’ – Yasmin Khan, History Workshop’s Radical Books of 2018

‘By far the best book I’ve come across on the Naxalite rebels and the Adivasi communities where they operate.’ – Kong Tsung-gan, The Hong Kong Free Press

‘A powerful, emotional and painstakingly detailed analysis … The book is engrossing and the characters will haunt you … a very nuanced study that seeks to understand and point towards solutions to one of India’s most intractable conflicts.’ – Vidya Ram, The Hindu

‘Critical, analytic and compassionate, Nightmarch is also an extraordinary feat of social science research … Shah introduces us to people who are often branded as terrorists by the state, and tells us their individual stories with texture and nuance, to show us their reasons for picking up arms against the state, while never romanticising these narratives or the movement.’ – Simantini Dey,

‘The level of commitment that Shah has shown towards her research is commendable. She emanates the true spirit of ethnographers and anthropologists such as Verrier Elwin. Her experience of the conflict is therefore more nuanced and complex than generally portrayed in the media.’ – Sonia K. Kurup, Sakal Times

‘An insightful book … focuses primarily on the lives of Naxalites and Adivasis in Jharkhand and Shah’s knowledge of this place and her people shows in her writing. This book exposes the contradictions within the Naxalite movement and tries to decide if the movement is good or bad for the Adivasis.’ – Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, ‘Favourite Reads of 2018’, Scroll

‘Draws urgent attention to a zone whose continued neglect reflects the collective pathologies of society.’ – Ashutosh Bhardwaj, The Financial Express

Nightmarch isn’t just a journey into India’s Naxal heartlands, it’s a journey into your minds and hearts … and for this and this above all, it must be read … Lucid prose sensitively straddles the world of Naxals to tell stories of conflict, hierarchies, inequality and inherent contradictions in the movement with compelling takeaways for everyone—and that’s what takes this book right to the top of political writing in narrative non-fiction.’ – The News Laundry

‘Shah’s powerful, reflective and deeply engaged scholarship recognises the innumerable social, economic, political and personal forces that drive the most marginalised into the Naxalite struggle while also acknowledging the movement’s many contradictions … A perfect illustration of the unique contribution that anthropologists can bring in comprehending the world we live in.’ – LSE Review of Books

‘With Nightmarch, Shah has fully met her obligations to the people (both the Adivasis and the Maoists) she has studied; to social anthropology and her colleagues in that branch of social science; and most importantly, to her students and the intelligent public at large.’ – Journal of Agrarian Change

‘Beautifully crafted and highly engaging.’ – Journal of Legal Anthropology

‘A gritty and revelatory journey.’ – Sri Lanka Guardian

About the book

In 2010, just as the Indian government was stepping up its counterinsurgency operations in the country’s Naxal-affected areas, Alpa Shah set out on a seven-night march with a guerrilla platoon across 250 kilometres of the same territory. An anthropology professor, she wanted to understand why, against the backdrop of a shiny new India, the country’s poor had shunned the world’s largest democracy and united with revolutionary ideologues.

Her gritty journey reveals how and why people from very different backgrounds come together to take up arms to change the world, but also what makes them fall apart. It tells the story of tribal youth who move in and out of the guerrilla armies; of highly educated men who leave the security of their families and move underground in the service of higher ideals; of women who come to the revolutionaries looking for egalitarian homes; and of the conflict between the Naxals and the security forces.

Brought to life by Alpa’s years of research and immersion into the daily lives of the tribal communities in a Naxal stronghold, Nightmarch is a reflection on economic growth, rising inequality, dispossession and conflict at the heart of contemporary India.

About the author

Alpa Shah

Alpa Shah is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She has reported and presented on India for BBC Radio 4 and the World Service. Her work is based on her insights from living as a social anthropologist for several years amongst the Adivasis of eastern India. She led the writing of Ground Down by Growth: Tribe, Caste, Class and Inequality in 21st Century India and is the author of In the Shadows of the State.

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Demy/HB / INR 699/ Non Fiction

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