An Indian-origin member of the United States Air Force is authorised to wear a Tilak while on duty. Darshan Shah, an Airman in the United States Air Force, has been granted a religious exemption to wear a Tilak Chandlo while on duty.
Darshan, an aerospace medical technician assigned to the 90th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron, has been pursuing a waiver since joining the service two years ago.
Shah got worldwide support as word of his request for a religious waiver spread through internet group chats.
Media reports quoted Shah as saying, “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.”
“It’s something new. It’s something they’ve never heard of before or even thought was possible, but it happened.”
Shah is also getting a lot of encouragement from his colleagues at the Mighty Ninety.
“Wearing the Tilak Chandlo every day to work is amazing, to say it in one word,” Shah added.
Shah grew up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, in a Gujarati family that practised the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottan Swaminarayan Sanstha, or BAPS. The religious emblem of this group is a red dot, or “Chandlo,” surrounded by an orange U-shaped tilak. He has been requesting a waiver to wear the Tilak Chandlo in uniform since beginning basic military training in June 2020.
Shah was advised to wait until tech school to obtain the waiver, after which he was told to wait until he arrived at his first duty post.
“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. t’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 expressed.
He checked in with the Superintendent of Personal Programs at the Air Force Global Strike Command monthly for updates on the progress of his waiver until it was accepted.
After several Hindu saints contacted him about Shah’s determination, the chief leader of Shah’s sect, Guruhari Mahant Swami Maharaj, shared a phone conversation with India to negotiate the waiver.