Airman pursues religious waiver to uniform regulations

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Charles Munoz
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs

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.

“I grew up simultaneously learning English and Gujarati,” said Senior Airman Darshan Shah, an aerospace medical technician assigned to the 90th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron. “When the teacher would ask me something, I would reply in Gujarati and mix up words here and there.”

Shah is originally from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where he grew up with both of his biological parents and two older sisters. He was born into a Hindu family.

“While in Minnesota, I went into the temple every Sunday to volunteer,” said Shah. “I learned in classes and taught kids as well.”

Shah moved to live with his grandparents in Gujarat, India, when he was three years old. His grandparents continued to raise him into Hinduism until he moved back to America at the age of five.

“My grandparents had a big influence on my religion,” said Shah. “They taught me a lot about religion, festivals and customs. I would definitely say they had a positive impact on me. Not only with my religion, but with my mother tongue, my language, which is called Gujarati.”

Hinduism is broken down into different sects similarly to Christianity. Shah’s sect is Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha or BAPS. Bochasanwasi means the sect originated in Bochasan, a city in Gujarat. Akshar Purushottam alludes to the Hindu philosophy of worshipping Purushottam, who is accompanied by Akshar, the ideal devotee. Purushottam is the name of the God worshipped in the sect, and Sanstha translates to organization. The religious symbol in BAPS is a red dot, known as a Chandlo, surrounded by an orange U-shaped symbol, known as a Tilak.

“I’ve actually been wearing the Tilak Chandlo before I joined the military,” said Shah. “Third grade is when I first started wearing it.”

Shah has been seeking a waiver allowing him to wear the Tilak Chandlo in uniform since attending Basic Military Training in June, 2020. 

“I don’t have an estimated time when I’m going to be able to wear it in uniform,” said Shah.

Regardless, he still speaks to the Superintendent of Personal Programs at the Air Force Global Strike Command on a monthly basis for updates on the status of his waiver.

“I feel like that’s a part of who I am,” said Shah. “I’ve been through a lot, and I feel like my religion is helping me through a lot as well in life. When I wear this uniform, that’s an identity as well. But I feel like I have my full identity when I have the Tilak Chandlo on my forehead.”

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.