Book review: Nandini Sundar, The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar

Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
676 Book Reviews
formation of its choice enabling the society to regulate the functioning of the
government. Another major task ‘is to provide good leaders for all walks of life’
through changing the mental attitudes of the citizens (p. 148), which is also part of the
organisations long-term missions of vyakti nirman. The idea is to infuse, at least,
among a set of citizens rooted in Indic life values to take initiative to develop a
strong India. The outcome of their works, to judge, will be visible and can be
quantified, measured. The objective thus is desh seva [service to nation] with
forward planning, meticulous designing of initiatives and inspiring rich contribu-
tions from the members of the society to build a strong India.
Himanshu Roy
Atal Bihari Vajpayee Senior Fellow
Nehru Memorial Museum and Library
Teenmurti, New Delhi
Nandini Sundar, The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar. New Delhi:
Juggernaut Books, 2016, 350 pp., `699, ISBN 978-93-8622-800-0.
DOI: 10.1177/00195561211051520
The uniqueness of this book lies in giving the ‘voices of the local adivasis’ who
are the victims of bloody civil war waged by the Communist Party of India
(Maoist) or CPI (Maoist) with the Indian State which is often a missing link in
most of the literature that has been written on the Naxalite movement in India.
The book recounts a decadal journey of the armed insurrection by the Maoist
party with a focus on the emergence of Salwa Judum (meaning Purification Hunt
in Gondi, a local dialect) and its aftermath developments from 2006–2016.
The first chapter traverses the evolution of the Salwa Judum as ‘Statist People’s
Movement’ (p. 15) and its devastating effects on the local villages on a mass
scale (as detailed in Chapters 5 and 6) with local narratives and testimonies. It
armed the local unemployed youth mostly belonging to adivasis to fight the insur-
gents and recruited them as Special Police Officers (SPOs) as part of its counter-
insurgency strategy. In the next chapter, the impact of mining and its role in
‘dehumanizing adivasis’ (p. 42) has been explored. This also gives an interface
between the democracy and counterinsurgency in the Indian context.
The third chapter informs us of how the CPI (Maoist) party had made inroads
into the Bastar region in 1980’s. It details how the radical left party took up the
local problems such as exploitation of government officials particularly forest
bureaucracy and revenue staff, land distribution, minor forest produces and other
sources of livelihoods to establish some kind of acceptance and social legitimacy
among the villagers (p. 60–61). The fourth chapter gives an overview of the
‘Maoist State’ (p. 68) and its functioning. This explains ‘why women’ join the
CPI (Maoist) party and how the party is successful in establishing parallel admin-
istrative system in a rudimentary form popularly called as janathana sarkar (JS)
meaning people’s government (p. 76).

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