On a December afternoon, in a classroom of Jai Bhavani Vidya Mandir, a Marathi-medium school in Aurangabad, 19 out of 20 children were shaking their heads. Sandeip Vishnoi had just asked the kids—all left-handed students in classes one through four—if any of them had ever been punished for the way they eat or write. Only one six-year-old boy, Anand, squeaked “yes.” After a fair bit of egging on from his schoolmates, he walked to the front of the room. “My parents don’t like it when I do anything with my left hand,” he confessed. “They say it’s wrong.”
Vishnoi—who, at 39 years old, is also one of more than 100 million left-handers in India—knows Anand’s predicament well. Earlier that day, he told me about how, when he was growing up in Indore, his mother believed he was using his dominant hand “to make mischief.” Once, he recalled, “she even gave me a band to sport around my right wrist, patiently explaining, ‘Beta, always remember to use the hand your band is tied around to carry out important tasks.’” Vishnoi’s mother eventually gave up, but not before pleading with him to stop using his left hand in front of elders, or while performing any religious rituals, because it was considered inauspicious or immoral. He faced worse in school, where he was often thrashed for being a lefty, and “was coerced into learning to write with my right hand,” he said. “Most lefties are. We learn to adjust—we have no choice in the matter.”
Such prejudice, Vishnoi explained, is a way of “labelling anything that shifts even slightly from the conventional—the majority—as wrong.” As he got older, he stopped paying attention to such rebukes, and his left-handedness never hindered his adult life. Still, he felt moved to help his fellow lefties. In 2009, on International Left-Handers’ Day, he started a networking community for lefties in Goa, where he was working. The group, called the Indian Left Hander Club, has since expanded greatly. It now carries out a variety of initiatives in about a dozen regional affiliates across the country, including in Delhi, Hyderabad, Bhopal, Indore, Jalgaon, Raipur and Ujjain, as well as the central Maharashtrian city of Aurangabad, where Vishnoi lives.