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Pratima Dharm is US Army's first Hindu chaplain

Last updated: 04 June, 2011
New York, Jun 4 (PTI) 11:56 IST

Pratima Dharm, a serving woman captain in the American Army, has been named the first-ever Hindu chaplain in the US Defence Department.

Dharm, 40, is the first Indian-American woman to be appointed as US Military's Hindu chaplain.

Coming from a diverse background, she migrated to America just months before the 9/11 attacks. She was born in New Delhi.

"My neighbours were Muslims, my neighbours were Jews, Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, Christians," she was quoted as saying.

"My close friends in school represented all the different faith groups, and it never occurred to me then that we were different or there was anything strange about it."
She said the US Army, and the United States itself were founded on the idea that people can be united while worshipping differently.

Hinduism, with nearly a billion adherents worldwide — has fewer than 1,000 active service members, according to Pentagon statistics — was the largest of the world faiths not represented by a chaplain.

Dharm, a chaplain on the medical staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre, has started getting emails from her friends though the official announcement is yet to be made.
"I'm already on the job," she said.

"There's this tremendous sense of hope and relief that there is someone who understands their story at a deeper level, coming from the background I do."

"To be able to sit down and show compassion for soldiers I have never met before is part of the message of Christ as well as [the Hindu teachings] of Vedanta."

Until the past year, she wore the cross of a Christian chaplain on her battle fatigues.
When she started on active duty in 2006, she was endorsed by the Pentecostal Church of God, based in Joplin, Mo.

But she's now sponsored by Chinmaya Mission West, a Hindu religious organisation that operates in the United States.

"She knows Christian theology, and she has a great grasp of Hindu theology," said a spokesman of Chinmaya Mission.

"This means she can help everyone."
She didn't convert from Christianity to Hinduism.
"I am a Hindu," she said.

"It's how I was raised and in my heart of hearts, that’s who I am."
"In Hinduism, the boundaries are not that strict," she said.
"It is to base your life on the Vedantic traditions, and you can be a Christian and follow the Vedantic traditions."

Dharm spent a year at a forward operating base near Mosul, Iraq, in 2007 and 2008.
She received a Bronze Star and an Army Commendation Medal, among other awards, but the most important thing she came home with was a deeper understanding of what Army chaplains are there for.

"You learn to grieve with someone you don't know on a deep level," Dharm said.
"You watch someone die in front of you and comfort the soldier left behind who had a connection to that person.

"Things of that nature you don't learn in seminary." Anju Bhargava, member of the President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships, said that it was an exciting news.

"Hindus are making history. She is not only the first Hindu Chaplain in Department of Defence but a woman - Shakti in the trenches."

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