Centralia by Poulomi Basu - review by Humphrey Hawksley

Humphrey Hawksley

Along the Red Corridor

Centralia

By

Dewi Lewis Publishing 192pp £35 order from our bookshop
 

In Centralia, the writer and photographer Poulomi Basu gives us a panorama of Chhattisgarh, a little-known area of central India, through photographs, poetry, biographical portraits and snatches of dialogue. Chhattisgarh is one of the states that make up what is known as the Red Corridor, a region running up the east of India in which Maoist insurgents known as Naxalites are in conflict with the Indian government. Basu spent eight years reporting on poverty, violence, corruption, big business and political unrest there.

Violence comes at the hands of Maoist rebels and the police. Big business is represented by mining concerns, while poverty is rife among the region’s tribal minorities. The symbol of rebellion is the hammer and sickle, which once flew in insurgent camps around the world. In many places, politics has moved on, often because of international pressure to end state repression. But not here. India, protected by its fig leaf of democracy, seems to escape such pressure, despite widespread evidence of human rights violations and routine killings.

This is the backdrop to Centralia, though Basu tells us little of it. Deliberately, she provides no narration, thus giving her work a sense of universality. The cover of the book is a harsh deep red with a black abstract face, rough as sandpaper, superimposed onto it. The book opens

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