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In research on India, in journalism, and even in popular culture, the quantitative and the qualitative—the data and the stories—typically remain separate. In her first book, Whole Numbers And Half Truths: What Data Can And Cannot Tell Us About Modern India, data journalist Rukmini S attempts to bring these two together to paint a more nuanced, complex and messy picture of the country.
Many of the cherished narratives around India—of its large and aspiring middle class, of its secular core, and of its progressive youth—are not supported by either the data or what field reporting shows, Rukmini argues. Indian data—including government data produced by a statistical architecture that still endures despite its shortcomings, a product of a movingly ambitious leap of faith at its moment of independence—can tell us much of value if we look deeply, and could even have prepared us for social movements and even the pandemic, if we had looked more closely. However, without crucial context, much of which can only come from on-the-ground reporting, the numbers can mislead in dangerous and damaging ways, according to the book. Additionally, crucial data about India is increasingly being withheld or dismissed.
Bringing together her years as a field reporter covering stories across the country and her ten years of specialization as a data journalist, Rukmini attempts to tell the story of a country that is being poorly served by its numbers. She will also speak of recent silver linings, both within government and within India’s thriving open data community, that provide something of a roadmap for how India’s data eco-system can be revived to play the crucial and foundational role in the country’s growth and development—and even in its idea of itself—that it once did.