Senior Airman Darshan Shah’s religious accommodation waiver has been approved and he has been authorised to wear a Tilak Chandlo while in uniform.
He is an aerospace medical technician assigned to the 90th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron in the USA.
Earlier in June 2020, while still in Basic Military Training (BMT), Shah was told to wait until tech school to pursue the waiver, where he was then told to wait until he reached his first duty station.
He applied for religious waiver and soon people showered support from around the world.
Darshan Shah says:
“It’s something new. It’s something they’ve never heard of before or even thought was possible, but it happened.”
Darshan Shah follows Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS).
Guruhari Mahant Swami Maharaj from India called Darshan Shah to discuss the waiver and give his blessings.
“He was very happy. He said that what I did was never seen before, and he gave me blessings.”
Even a cousin who lives in Australia got in touch with Darshan Shah to express her excitement.
Darshan Shah is also receiving support from his colleagues at the Mighty Ninety.
“Wearing the Tilak Chandlo every day to work is amazing, to say it in one word. 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.”
Darshan Shah is happy, relieved and proud since his fight for the waiver stems back to basic military training.
“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. 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.”
Darshan Shah is originally from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where he grew up with both of his biological parents and two older sisters.
“While in Minnesota, I went into the temple every Sunday to volunteer. I learned in classes and taught kids as well.”
At the age of three, he moved to live with his grandparents in Gujarat. 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. 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.”
Third grade is when Darshan Shah first started wearing the Tilak Chandlo. He is grateful that he lives in a country where he has the freedom to openly express his religious freedom, both in and out of uniform.
“We live in a country where we’re allowed to practice 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.”
He 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.