Over years of fieldwork, the anthropologist Shah gained unusual access to the leftist Naxalite insurgency that has persisted in the hills and forests of central and eastern India for over 50 years. She builds her analysis around a dramatic narrative of a seven-night, 155-mile march she took with a platoon of guerillas. The Maoist movement is rooted in disadvantaged Adivasi, or tribal, communities and led by educated, middle-class cadres from elsewhere in the country. Shah dismisses theories that peasants join insurgencies for economic benefits or for protection, emphasizing instead the emotional bonds the guerillas form with young Adivasis by treating them as equals. She balances her mostly favorable picture of the insurgency with accounts of how movement leaders insinuate themselves alongside bureaucrats and politicians into the informal economy of protection payoffs and illegal logging, how some guerillas join mercenary gangs that cooperate with the police, and how the movement’s Maoist doctrine on gender repression blinds it to the relatively egalitarian reality of Adivasi gender relations. Her recurring theme is the unending cycle of violence among exploitative landlords, the oppressed tribal people, and the military, whose frontline soldiers are also young Adivasis.
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