Shortlist for the ‘Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize 2019’

Date Published: 06 Sep 2019

The New India Foundation (NIF) announces the shortlist for the second ‘Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize‘ for the best non-fiction book on modern/contemporary India, and the 6 books shortlisted this year are testimony to the quality and diversity of non-fiction writing in and about India.

The Book Prize celebrates high-quality, non-fiction literature by emerging writers from all nationalities, published in the previous calendar year. Established in 2018, the Book Prize carries a cash award of INR 15 lacs and a citation.

This year the NIF received 117 applications for the Book Prize. From this huge pool of books encompassing an immense range of topics, the jury has shortlisted 6 books for the Prize. The shortlisted books showcase a diversity of approaches—autobiography and reportage, anthropology and history—as well as a variety of themes that blend the country‘s complex past to aspirations for the future. The titles of 2019 shortlist range from an affecting memoir of a Dalit to a finely-etched exploration of the loss of a tribal tradition, the world-beating aspirations of young Indian men to the revolutionary ardour of Maoist guerrillas; the surprising histories of how India embraced democracy and how ordinary Indians worked the constitution.

The complete shortlist for this year‘s Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize are:

  • Manoranjan Byapari, Interrogating My Chandal Life (Sage)
  • Rohit De, A People's Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic (Princeton University Press)
  • Snigdha Poonam, Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World (Penguin Random House India)
  • Alpa Shah, Nightmarch: A Journey into India's Naxal Heartlands (HarperCollins)
  • Ornit Shani, How India Became Democratic (Penguin Random House India)
  • Piers Vitebsky, Living Without the Dead: Loss and Redemption in a Jungle Cosmos (HarperCollins)

The prize is judged by a jury consisting of the four trustees of NIF - Ramachandra Guha, Nandan Nilekani, Srinath Raghavan, and Manish Sabharwal, and two members of the Advisory Board - Professor Niraja Gopal Jayal and Dr. Rukmini Banerjee.

Speaking about the shortlist, Ramachandra Guha - Chairman of the Jury said, “We‘ve got a compelling glimpse of the multitude of narratives that exists in India through the submissions that we have received for the Book Prize. Each book nourishes a conscious and creative conversation, and we were struck by the lucidity, strength and eloquence of the writers - and we hope that they will be read by many for years to come.”
The winner of the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize will be announced during the Bangalore Literature Festival, to be held in November 2019.


Manoranjan Byapari, Interrogating My Chandal Life (Sage)

A socio-political activist and a celebrated writer of Dalit literature in Bengali, Manoranjan Byapari has worked at many kinds of jobs and also been writer-in residence at Alumnus Software, Calcutta. He is a popular writer in the literary magazines and in 2014; he received the Suprabha Majumdar prize awarded by the Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi.

Interrogating My Chandal Life is a translation of Byrapari‘s inspirational memoir Itibritte Chandal Jivan. Through a powerful narrative for the need for agency and dignity, he takes the reader through a layered investigation of his own identity. A harsh reminder of the inequality that exists in our society, his writing permeates with poverty, disease, anger as well as a fierce will to live.

Rohit De, A People's Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic (Princeton University Press)

An Associate Professor at the Department of History at Yale University, Rohit De is a lawyer and historian of modern South Asia. Rohit‘s fields of interest include Modern South Asia, Global Legal History, Law and Society, Nationalism and Decolonization, Comparative Constitutionalism. He has assisted Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan of the Supreme Court of India and worked on constitution reform projects in Nepal and Sri Lanka.

De‘s book A People's Constitution: The Everyday Life of Law in the Indian Republic is a scholarly work that explores how the Indian Constitution of 1950 has liberated one of the largest population of the world. Contrary to the argument that the Constitution has little influence on the masses, De illustrates the power of the Indian legal system through four important, diverse cases led by minorities of the country.

Snigdha Poonam, Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World (Penguin Random House India)

Snigdha Poonam is a national affairs writer with The Hindustan Times in Delhi, and her work has appeared in a wide range of Indian and international publications such as Scroll, The Caravan, The New York Times, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, The Financial Times. Recipient of the 2017 Journalist of Change award of Bournemouth University for a work of reportage that appeared on Huffington Post, she writes mainly on Indian politics, society and culture.

Dreamers touches on the topic of ̳aspirations of millions‘ and provides a perspective on the challenges the youngsters of India are facing, and its impact on the country. Snigdha Poonam‘s remarkable cultural study of the unlikeliest of fortune-hawkers travels through the small towns of northern India to investigate the phenomenon that is India's Generation Y. Her intelligent reporting skills are displayed through the impressive collection of profiles that provides a vivid glimpse of the potential of the young people to change the course of the country.

Alpa Shah, Nightmarch: A Journey into India's Naxal Heartlands (HarperCollins)

Alpa Shah is an Associate Professor – Reader in Anthropology at the London School of Economics. She also leads the Programme of Research on Inequality and Poverty, funded by major research grants from the EU European Research Council and the UK Economic and Social Research Council. Shah is committed to public engagement and has reported and presented on the underbelly of India for BBC Radio 4 and the World Service.

Unfolding like a thriller and brought to life by Alpa‘s years of research and immersion into the daily lives of the tribal communities in a Naxal stronghold, Nightmarch investigates what drove the marginalised towards Naxalism. A reflection on economic growth, rising inequality, dispossession and conflict at the heart of contemporary India, Shah‘s gritty journey reveals how and why people from very different backgrounds come together to take up arms to change the world but also what makes them fall apart.

Ornit Shani, How India Became Democratic (Penguin Random House India)

Ornit Shani is a scholar of the politics and modern history of India. Having received her PhD from the University of Cambridge, she was a Research Fellow at St. John‘s College, Cambridge University. Her current research focuses on the modern history of democracy and citizenship in India.

How India Became Democratic is a scholarly work by Ornit Shah where she explores the deep connection between being an Indian citizen and his/her right to exercise one‘s franchise. Through this well-researched book that makes a thought-provoking claim that ―Indians became voters before they became citizens‖, Shani details the entire process of the institutionalization of democracy by allowing us to grasp the glory of that moment.

Piers Vitebsky, Living Without the Dead: Loss and Redemption in a Jungle Cosmos (HarperCollins)

Piers Vitebsky is an anthropologist and the Emeritus Head of Anthropology and Russian Northern Studies at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge. He has authored many books and has numerous documentary film collaborations featured in BBC, Channel 4 and National Geographic. His book The Reindeer People won the Kiriyama Prize for nonfiction in 2006.

Living without the Dead lays bare today's crisis of indigenous religions and shows how historical reform can bring new fulfilments - but also new torments and uncertainties. Vitebsky explores the loss of the Sora tradition as one for greater humanity: just as we have been losing our wildernesses, so we have been losing cultural and spiritual possibilities, tribe by tribe. From the award-winning author of The Reindeer People, this is a heart- breaking story of the extinction of an irreplaceable world, even while new religious forms come into being.

Get In Touch

  • The Managing Trustee,
    The New India Foundation
    C/o Neev Schools Sy No.16,
    Yemalur- Kempapura Main Road
    Yemalur, Bangalore 560037