Indian author Alpa Shah’s Nightmarch: A Journey into India’s Naxal Heartlands is among the six political non-fictions shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2019. The book traces the journey of a Naxal platoon set out on a seven-night march across 250 kilometres through Bihar and Jharkhand in 2010 just as the Indian government was stepping up its counterinsurgency operations in the country’s Naxal-affected areas.
Among them was Shah – the only woman, the only unarmed person, dressed as a man in an olive-green guerrilla uniform. Her gritty and revelatory journey forms the plot of the story.
The Orwell Prize, named on English novelist George Orwell, is considered to be Britain’s most prestigious award for political writing and seeks to highlight and award works that succeed ‘to make political writing into an art’. They have two categories for books, The Orwell Prize for Political Writing and The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.
An anthropology professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Shah 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 in this book.
Describing the shortlist as a “tremendous honour”, she said, “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’.”
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.
As an annual award by The Orwell Foundation, the winner of the prize will be announced on June 25, Orwell’s birth anniversary, at a ceremony in the UK.
Other notable works shortlisted for the award are The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú; The Growth Delusion: Wealth, Poverty, and the Well-Being of Nations by David Pilling; Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe; Moneyland: Why Thieves And Crooks Now Rule The World And How To Take It Back by Oliver Bullough and Heimat: A German Family Album by Nora Krug.
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).