‘The Death Script’ by Ashutosh Bhardwaj
Narrated in multiple voices, ‘The Death Script’ is a creative biography of ‘Dandakaranya’ that combines the rigour of journalism, the intimacy of a diary, the musings of a travelogue, and the craft of a novel. Through the prism of Maoist insurgency, the book also looks at larger questions of violence and betrayal, and love and obsession.
Ashutosh Bhardwaj is one those rare journalists who is courageous enough to plunge down to the ground level reality and brings us an honest account of what happens to that part of India which we have comfortably failed to notice.
Now in its sixth decade, the Maoist insurgency is one of the biggest challenges before Indian democracy. A vastly uninformed and misinformed discourse has ensured that it has not received the critical and public attention it deserves.
As per the title, this book also sounds philosophical at some points. ‘The Death Script’ is perhaps a book well beyond the conjectures that death is scripted with; incorporating the causes, prejudices and repercussions that violence gets credited with. Every word in every sentence of this book speaks volumes about hard work and perseverance put in by him to ensure that nothing in this book is less than extraordinary.
This book gives a complete view of the Naxal insurgency in India. Though India is highly regarded as the world’s largest democracy, the presence of a prolonged Naxal-Maoist insurgency for more than five decades loudly tells us that there is something seriously wrong with our constitutional organisations.
Why does the Naxal-Maoist march towards the State and the Government? And what are the long term consequences it would have on the Red Corridors?
If a common man can get justice through our law and order and justice systems, they will never knock the doors of corrupted politicians and their well breaded gangsters. Similarly, when a tribal’s basic life resources are gulped by greedy capitalists and supportive politicians in the name of development, then it is obvious that he will approach a Naxal-Maoist rather than the police.
The author explained the perils of handling this insurgency in military retaliation through various real life characters representing Adivasis, police, CRPF, Maoists, surrendered Naxals, Salwa Judum etc. The sensitivity and thoughtfulness that the writer has displayed while describing every story are incredible.
In ‘The Death Script’, Ashutosh Bhardwaj writes of his time in that region, of the various men and women he meets from both sides of the conflict, bringing home with astonishing power the human cost of such a battle.
“In Bastar, I witnessed death closely for the first time in my life. The experience was overpowering, unsettling, as well as humbling. I met many people in the jungle who challenged my beliefs and perceptions. Their dreams and sorrows introduced me to a world I had not known about,” he mentioned in his book. A very insightful description of a glimpse into our exploitative genes through the lens of journalism.
It’s important for readers to understand the blurring lines of popular narrative of Left, Right and Centre in such affected areas. ‘Dandakaranya’ is possibly the biggest graveyard of independent India. This book yearns to record their seemingly quotidian yet epic life. The author has not censored any brutality and portrayed the correct picture in front of the readers.
Moreover, the author has used his journalistic skills quite well in describing the events which make the book very interesting and indulging. The book is full of emotions, and as a reader, you can feel the pain and the terror the people go through every day of their lives.
Ashutosh Bhardwaj had been both empathetic in his approach and meticulous while documenting. It has the conflicts, story, insights, and footnotes and apart from all, the best part of the book is that it nowhere leads the reader to any conclusion or there is no judgment or inclination in favour of anyone, but rather it is a work of hard evidence and personal experience.
Bhardwaj sees images and hears whispers he perhaps is not entitled to, and he is made to be part of concealments not so pleasant. He views whatever comes his way in a very objective manner, without censoring the brutality and dimensionality they come with. Concrete evidence cited by him, along with his plethora of vivid perceptions of the news coverage makes the book a hard and steady commemoration of empathy and universalism.
In this book, you will hear the voices of forests that grow gradually and creep into your mind, and then lead you into inter-disciplinary arguments – of incidents which will churn up fear, betrayal, and the inevitability of death.
Through the prism of the Maoist insurgency, Bhardwaj meditates on larger questions of violence and betrayal, sin and redemption, and what it means to live through and write about such experiences – making ‘The Death Script’ one of the most significant works of non-fiction to be published in recent times. Bhardwaj has done a great job by blending non-fiction with a fiction type of storytelling.
The book provides some very interesting facts and stories about the deep jungles of Dandakaranya and the Naxalites which we have never heard or read before and will help you rethink and reassess the entire situation with a new perception. It is also an excellent introduction to the Maoist viewpoint and operational strategies too. A well written book on the causes of the Maoist movement in India.
The author keeps you hooked by writing from a journalist’s viewpoint as well as from the viewpoint of a person whose diary musings reflect on his troubled mind with all the deaths around him. This book is an authentic and detailed introduction to the Maoist movement, brought to you through some brave investigative journalism.
Ashutosh Bhardwaj goes into the history of the movement, how it began, the factors which have led to its widespread virulent distribution, the nature of the violence, their core beliefs and their goals. The book also explores the ideology and development of the Naxalite movement in Dandakaranya region and beyond.
The very existence of the Maoist movement is a present and clear signal that there is a void, created by a government that opted to withdraw and leave the people to their own devices. Of a government that let class and caste oppression fester for so long that the tribals and villagers found it safer to opt for violent revolution over democratic option.
The Naxalites are only filling the void created by the government. But one can believe that in spite of this, the movement, at a fundamental level, is still misguided, at least in terms of ideology and methods if not in sentiment.
To understand the Maoist viewpoint is important for the furtherance of dialogue. That is an important goal toward which this book is aimed. The understanding of the lives of the people under the Maoist sway is also important, to give moral force and direction to the dialogue, to ensure that it is no longer conducted through spitting gunfire.
At the same time, while one can believe that the Naxal leaders are misguided, the way they have achieved legitimacy is nothing short of miraculous. To run a quasi-government for so many years is no mean achievement. Which again points us to the crying need for proper government in the area.
The author captivatingly winds his story around the exploitation, neglect, suffering and heart-wrenching misery that the tribal and rural landless peasants face. The abysmal wages paid to the workers and the amount of exploitation inflicted even in today’s time makes you question your own situation in society. This book beautifully deals with the Maosists, the violence, the sin, the betrayal and its redemption.
The book charters the life and fate of some of the biggest names and personalities of the movement, the difference in their approach to the problems, their propensity towards violent means and their eventual fate.
The cases of rampant human right abuses, sexual exploitation, encounter killings and executions of innocents and accused alike does not make things any easier. The author also tries to link castes along with the peasantry, which makes sense in a lot of scenarios.
Many lives lost across various walks of society. Our democratic institutions need to be introspective in determining how effective they are in creating a “Ramarajya” where everyone is equal. This is a piece of prose which speaks of the “dreams and delusions in Naxal country”, and essentially highlights a face of Maoist and Naxalite rebellions that only a few might be familiar with.
Through death and demise, and through reporting and citation, Bhardwaj has written a book that seems too colourful to be true, yet too monochrome to be celebrated.
(Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is Bangalore-based management consultant, literary critic and advisor with Kalinga Literary Festival. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)