He is the Only Indian in US Army to Get Religious Waiver to Wear Tilak while on Duty and in Uniform

The custom of adorning the space between the eyebrows on one’s forehead with tilak was so ingrained in the everyday culture of Hindus that everyone from one to 100 years old or above would wear tilak as part of their regular appearance. Male folks of a household, from the Brahmin to the business community, would not step out of the threshold without tilak on the forehead. Tilak of sandalwood paste keeps the forehead cool against the emission of electromagnetic radiations during intense emotions like anger or anxiety. The customary practice of wearing tilak has been reduced to an occasional ritual during festivals and family functions over time.

Darshan Shah US Air Force, Indians in US Army

PC: US Air Force (photo by Airman 1st Class Charles Munoz)

However, Darshan Shah, an Indian-origin medical technician in the US Air Force, has been wearing tilak since he was a third grader. An aerospace medical technician at the Francis E Warren Air Force base in the state of Wyoming, he is the only Indian Hindu in the US Army to have been given a religious waiver to wear tilak while on duty. He sought the waiver right after his basic military training began in June 2020. His efforts bore fruit in February this year.

Darshan firmly believes that the tilak is part of his religious and ethnic identity as much as the uniform of the US Air Force is part of his professional identity. “It’s who I am. Wearing the tilak is special. It’s my way of getting through hardships and difficulties in life. It provides me guidance. It has given me an overall understanding of what I belong to and where my roots are in this world,” a press release from the Francis E Warren Air Force base quoted him saying. The uniform and the tilak, both are equally important to him.

He owes his understanding of religiosity and roots to his grandparents who live in Gujarat. “They taught me a lot about religion, festivals, culture, customs and my language. I would definitely say they had a positive impact on me during my childhood years. That’s why my full identity manifests itself when I have the Tilak Chandlo on my forehead while wearing the uniform,” said Darshan Shah.

Darshan who grew up in Minnesota and calls it home is proud of America where citizens are granted religious liberty and allowed to practice their individual beliefs. “That’s what makes America a great country. We’re not persecuted for what we follow or believe. I grew up learning English and Gujarati simultaneously in Minnesota. I would visit a nearby temple and volunteer there every Sunday,” the press release quoted him saying.

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