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Thursday, October 9, 2014

First Hindu Chaplain of US Army becomes First Hindu Chaplain at Georgetown University

Women have achieved in many fields – have been to the fore in diverse fields …… this woman too is a great achiever.  

She is a Rajput hailing from the northern part of India.  She went to us after marriage, some time before 9/11 – she was in Boston at that time.  

As a psychologist and clinician, she attended to people impacted by terror attacks. 

She wanted to serve the country by joining the army ……

… and ….. became first of her kind .. !!

Traditionally, a chaplain is a minister, such as a priest, rabbi - representative of a religious tradition, attached to a secular institution such as a hospital, prison, military unit, school, police department, university, or private chapel. Though originally the word "chaplain" referred to representatives of the Christian faith, it is now also applied to people of other religions or philosophical traditions–such as in the case of the humanist chaplains serving with military forces and an increasing number of chaplaincies at American universities. United States military chaplains hold positions in the armed forces of the United States and conduct  religious services and provide counselling for their adherents. There are about 2,900 chaplains on active duty. Chaplains have served in the various branches of the United States armed forces since their formation, including in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

Congress authorized the hiring of an Army chaplain in 1791. General Carl Spaatz, the first Air Force Chief of Staff, ordered the institution of a separate Air Force chaplaincy in 1948.  The Armed Forces Chaplains Board (AFCB) is an organizational entity within the United States Department of Defense established to advise the Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness on religious, ethical, and moral matters, in addition to a number of policy issues affecting religious ministry and the support of the free exercise of religion within the military services.

Ms Pratima Dharm moved to Michigan with her husband, pursued her dream  of studying theology and religion. She joined the Ashland Theological Seminary as a full-time student and took rigorous classes and training to become a chaplain, travelling between Ohio (Seminary headquarters) and Michigan for 2-3 years.  She had all the formal training of Army personnel (operations, logistics) except weapons and was assigned a soldier at all times to keep me safe.
Pratima Dharm, is in news.  She recently retired as the first Hindu chaplain in the U.S. Army,  and now has been appointed as the first Hindu chaplain at the Georgetown University. The Hindu and other newspapers report that the Georgetown University has appointed its first Hindu priest —a woman — to serve the religious needs of its Hindu students, whose number has increased in recent years.

Founded in 1789, Georgetown University is the oldest Jesuit and Catholic university in the U.S. Ms. Dharm began her new assignment at Georgetown on October 1, 2014, the university said in a media statement. “War can dehumanise you and I was watching the dehumanisation of my soldiers, so I was fighting to give them a sense of family,” says Ms. Dharm, who began her stint with the Army in 2006. “Army Ministry has touched me so deeply and it has made me a better chaplain and a better human being,” said Ms. Dharm. Ms. Dharm will lead the weekly Hindu pujas or prayer services, now attended by about 100 students. She would also look at programmes that could better Hindu education on campus and work closely with other religious groups on campus. She said, “For these students, it means a lot to be able to practice their faith away from home, and many of them have travelled from far away to attend this great university.”

“The addition of Chaplain Dharm to the Campus Ministry staff is a big achievement for Georgetown and it will truly aid the university in fulfilling its mission of cura personalis by providing an outlet for students to deepen their understanding of Hinduism and to explore their personal faith connection,” said Smiti Mohan, president of the university’s Hindu Students Association.

Ms. Dharm earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey University in Mumbai. She also holds a master’s degree in psychology from Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu, and a master’s degree in theology from Ashland Seminary, a Christian seminary in Ohio and Michigan.

Georgetown was the first Catholic university to hire a rabbi to serve as a chaplain in 1968. Three decades later, it became the first American university to hire a Muslim cleric to serve as a full-time chaplain ~ and how it has a Hindu chaplain too.  We try to ape Western society in many ways ….but, sadly, the Hindu faiths and symbols are ridiculed in Cinemas and in public forums by non-believers and those who do not understand the ethos and values.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

9th Oct 2014.
news credit : The Hindu

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