Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

Rukmini S. — Whole Numbers and Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India

Monday, October 24, 2022

12:00pm – 1:30pm EST

McKinney Conference Rm, 111 Thayer St

In this South Asia Seminar, data journalist, Rukmini S. will discuss her book Whole Numbers and Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About Modern India (context 2021).

Rukmini S. is an independent data journalist based in Chennai. In 2004, she began covering Mumbai city for The Times of India. Since 2010, she has specialised in data journalism. She was the first Data Editor of an Indian newsroom, first at The Hindu and then at HuffPost India. She has also reported on the field from across the country.

She now writes for a range of publications including MintIndiaSpend and The Guardian. Her pandemic podcast, The Moving Curve, won an Emergent Ventures India Covid-19 Prize in 2020. She was awarded the Chameli Devi Jain Awards for an Outstanding Woman Journalist (Honourable Mention) in 2020 and a Likho Award for Excellence in Media in 2019. Born in Pune, she studied in Mumbai and London and has a Post-Graduate Diploma in Social Communications Media and an MSc in Development Studies. 

About the Book: 
Fuelled by a surge of migration to cities, the country's growth appears to be defined by urbanisation and by its growing, prosperous middle class. It is also defined by progressive and liberal young Indians, who vote beyond the constraints of identity, and paradoxically, by an unchecked population explosion and rising crimes against women. Is it, though? In 2020, the annual population growth was down to under 1%. Only thirty-one out of hundred Indians live in a city today and just 5% live outside the city of their birth. As recently as 2016, only 4% of young, married respondents in a survey said their spouse belonged to a different caste group. Over 45% of voters said in a pre-2014 election survey that it was important to them that a candidate of their own caste wins elections in their constituency. A large share of reported sexual assaults across India are actually consensual relationships criminalised by parents. And staggeringly, spending more than Rs 8,500 a month puts you in the top 5% of urban India.

In Whole Numbers and Half Truths, data-journalism pioneer Rukmini S. draws on nearly two decades of on-ground reporting experience to piece together a picture that looks nothing like the one you might expect. There is a mountain of data available on India, but it remains opaque, hard to access and harder yet to read, and it does not inform public conversation.

South Asia Seminar