British Hindus are the largest minority religion in the British Armed Forces, comprising 0.7% of trained strength. In recent years the Forces have made leaps and bounds in creating a more accepting atmosphere for Hindu soldiers.
In 2005 the British Army introduced a new ‘Hindu Chaplain to the Forces’, Acharya Krishan Kant Attri MBE, to provide spiritual guidance to Hindu soldiers alongside the Church of England padres attached to every unit. The Armed Forces Hindu Network sites and influences at the highest levels of decision making, ensuring that Hindu matters are not ignored. It was launched in 2014 alongside the First World War centenary to recognise the 800,000 Hindu soldiers that fought for the United Kingdom.
As well as an advisory body, the AFHN also helps organise religious celebrations, educational and social events and provides regular opportunities for the otherwise geographically diverse Armed Forces Hindu community to come together, meet and share experiences.
This has led to a more open, more diverse organisation. In recent years, subject to operational effectiveness and health and safety requirements, the Forces have allowed more open recognition of individual soldiers’ Hindu faith. Hindu soldiers can wear Raksha Bandhan, the Tilak may be worn on the forehead and festivals, such as Diwali, are allowed to be celebrated.
The most recent event, a celebration of Raksha Bandhan at the Shree Geeta Bhawan Temple in Birmingham, was attended not just by the Hindu community but also by senior officers from all three services. Colonel Richard Maybery, of the Royal Signals, who was also in attendance said: “I am delighted that the Army in the West Midlands can support Raksha Bandhan which is a very important festival for Hindus in the Armed Forces. The festival and the presence of our friends from the Hindu community in the West Midlands reinforces the bonds of friendship that we enjoy with them here.”