Indian-Origin Man in US Air Force Gets Religious Waiver to Wear Tilak

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Wyoming: Darshan Shah, an Airman in the US Air Force posted at the FE Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, has been granted a religious waiver to wear a Tilak Chandlo while in uniform.

Darshan, an aerospace medical technician assigned to the 90th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron, had been seeking a waiver since he joined the military two years back. His religious accommodation waiver was approved last month.

“We live in a country where we’re allowed to practise and have faith in what we want. That’s what makes this such a great country. We’re not persecuted for what we follow or believe. If it wasn’t for the first amendment, I wouldn’t be able to do this at all. I wouldn’t be able to be who I am while being a military member or even a citizen,” said Shah.

After news that Shah was seeking a religious waiver began circulating online group chats, he received support from around the globe. One of his cousins in Australia contacted him to express her excitement along with other people from various locations.

“My friends from Texas, California, New Jersey and New York are messaging me and my parents that they are very happy something like this happened in the Air Force,” said Shah. “It’s something new. It’s something they’ve never heard of before or even thought was possible, but it happened.”

Shah grew up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, in a Gujarati household who are followers of Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha or BAPS. The religious symbol of this sect is a red dot or Chandlo surrounded by an orange U shaped tilak.

He began seeking a waiver allowing him to wear the Tilak Chandlo in uniform since attending basic military training in June 2020. He spoke with the Superintendent of Personal Programs at the Air Force Global Strike Command on a monthly basis for updates on the status of his waiver, till it got approved.

“For some Airmen, displaying aspects of their religious faith is a matter of sincere personal responsibility though at times it may conflict with uniform rules and regulations. For one Mighty Ninety Airman, it means seeking a religious waiver to wear a Tilak Chandlo in uniform,” says a statement issued by the 90th Missile Wing Chaplain Corps.

The primary leader of Shah’s sect, Guruhari Mahant Swami Maharaj, shared a phone call to discuss the waiver from India after several Hindu saints contacted him regarding Shah’s perseverance.

“He was very happy,” said Shah. “He said that what I did was never seen before, and he gave me blessings.”

Shah is also receiving plenty of support from his colleagues at the Mighty Ninety.

“Wearing the Tilak Chandlo every day to work is amazing, to say it in one word,” said Shah. “People around my workplace are giving me handshakes, high-fives and congratulating me because they know how hard I’ve tried to get this religious accommodation approved.”

“Not only was I wearing the uniform, which is one of my main identities, being a member of the Air Force, but I was also wearing my Tilak Chandlo,” said Shah. “It’s who I am. Wearing it is special. It’s my way of getting through hardships and difficulties in life. It provides me guidance. It’s given me a load of great friends and an overall understanding of who I am in this world.”

Shah plans to serve in the Air Force for at least 20 years. He would like to become a commissioned officer and serve as a doctor after earning his degree. Francis E Warren Air Force Base is a US Air Force base located three miles west of Ceyenne, Wyoming. It is one of the three strategic missile bases in the US.

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