book review whole numbers and half truths on bookspoetryandmore
Why I picked this book?

The title of the book Whole Numbers and Half Truths What Data Can and Cannot Tell us About Modern India” drew my attention. As we know there is so much of information and data available that it confuses you. And I think sometime that is the purpose to “confuse people”. So that they can’t make a sense out of what the reality is. In the book the author, Rukmini S. uses the data to present a picture of India that tells us about India through numbers.

The Book

Whole Numbers and Half Truths collates the data from various government and non-government sources to give us an idea about India. How many people live in villages? How many people live in cities? How much money Indians earn? Who is middle class? How Indians spent their money? What Indians eats? How and where India works and much more. While reading the book, I was surprised to know how things are entirely different from the general perception.

What are your views about democracy and how they have changed over time? It was shocking to know that Indians view democracy not that Important. Also, people’s views on civil rights are even more regressive than Pakistan. Indian believes civil rights are not essential feature of democracy. The scary part is that many Indians believes that freedom of speech is not important. And this trend has been increasing.

It was surprising to know that the younger people do not necessarily hold more liberal views. And caste still matters to us Indians. Many of us still practice untouchability, thought the urban populace might think it an archaic and no longer practiced.

Whole numbers and Half Truths is not just a collection and collation of data, but what the data tells us about India. The books demystify many myths and general observations about India and Indian society. It gives the reader a new picture and perspective backed with data. India is not what we know through News channels and newspapers, it is beyond all the cacophony, hyper-nationalism and what the opinion makers tell us at the top of their voice on prime-time news.

We have a heard a lot about “Indian Middle Class” over the years. Every year when the budget comes, we hear how the middle class is ignored. Most of the working-class people consider themselves middle class, which is not true. The book certainly clears many many myths and shatters our general perception about so many things. Lets have a look at the data below.

According to the most recent source of income data that India has from the IHDS (Indian Human Development Survey), the country’s average household income was Rs 1.13 lakh as of 2011-12. If India were divided into five classes of equal sizes, then the

  1. Poorest quintile (20%) would make between – Rs 1000 and Rs 33,000 annually
  2. Next 20% would make between – Rs 33,001 and Rs 55,640 annually
  3. Third 20% would make between – Rs 55,000 and Rs 88800 annually
  4. Fourth 20% would make between – Rs 88,800 and Rs 1,50,000
  5. The richest 20 % would make above Rs 1,50,000 annually.

This is an eye opening piece of data. The general perception that most people make above Rs 1,50,000 or Rs 12,500 per month, is far from the reality. So, if you are earning more than it then you are among the richest 20% of Indians, congratulations!!

Whole Numbers and Half Truths gives the readers a picture of what India is and where it stands with the help of numbers. First and foremost the book breaks many myths about India. Secondly, the book can help us to take stock of things and help the governments and policy makers to have a benchmark and from there, we can make policies which address the real issues and helps the people who really need help. Knowing the truth is the first step. Once we have correct data and if we interpret it correctly we can shape and devise our policies to achieve the maximum out of them.

About the Author

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, initially at the Hindu and then at HuffPost India. She has also reported on the field from across the country. Her pandemic podcast, The Moving Curve, won an Emergent Ventures India Covid-19 Prize in 2020. She was awarded the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Woman Mediaperson (Honourable Mention) in 2020 and the Likho Awards for Excellence in Media in 2019.

Born in Pune, she studied in Mumbai and London, and has a postgraduate diploma in social communications media and an MSc in development studies.

our verdict

Whole Numbers and Half Truths, is insightful, informative and eye opening. It breaks so many myths and general beliefs that we have about our country. A book everyone should read to understand India through numbers, especially students, journalists, policymakers to have the basic understanding of India thorough numbers.

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