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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Ramnath Goenka Awards: Book on influence of politics in tech wins in non-fiction category

Arun Mohan Sukumar won the award in this category for Midnight's Machines: A Political History of Technology in India, which was published in 2019.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: January 4, 2022 5:55:50 am
Arun Mohan Sukumar

Some stories need a deeper understanding and analysis to assess the enormity of their impact on people’s lives. This is why the Ramnath Goenka Awards have a non-fiction book category that recognises published work that covers an issue on a scale that newspapers or television channels cannot attempt. The award is for books published in English.

Arun Mohan Sukumar won the award in this category for Midnight’s Machines: A Political History of Technology in India, which was published in 2019. In his book, Sukumar examines how politics in India has led the country to reject or embrace certain technologies. He takes a broad view, from 1947 to the present, to look at how politics, and the political class, in India shape the way citizens think about technology.

Sukumar is a PhD candidate at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, and a junior fellow at the school’s Centre for International Law and Governance. He heads the Technology Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

“We often read debates surrounding technology with respect to Aadhaar, data breaches and use of data for surveillance. I wanted to look into how politics in India has influenced technology; because politics has pretty much affected all aspects of our day-to-day lives. That is the inspiration behind Midnight’s Machines,” Sukumar says.

The absence of other books of a similar scale that focus on the influence that politics has on technology was one of the biggest challenges for Sukumar while writing his book. “There are some extraordinary books that have analysed the history of technology, including in the early years of Independence. There are few, at least in my knowledge, that look at the influence of politics on technology,” he adds.

Sukumar’s book looks at technology in its various manifestations — space, nuclear, agricultural and ‘civilian’ technologies that are used by Indians in their daily life. “It was a challenge to identify and select people, moments, timelines and technologies that were crucial to the making of modern India,” he said.

He had to rely on government records and news reports, which, he said, are extremely important to identify a popular narrative. “I did subsequent research to identify what were the debates that shaped them or what were their contributions to shaping Indians’ perception of technology,” he said.

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