Thoughts of a Hindu Soldier in the United States Army

A devout Hindu, Rajiv Sriram Srinivasan, aged 23, is a Lieutenant in the United States Army. In an essay competition conducted by Hindu American Foundation, Rajiv shared his thoughts on the identity crises he faced as being a man of Hindu faith believing in the peaceful coexistence of all beings and at the same time the need to patriotically serve United States as an army officer.

Rajiv’s essay is highly inspirational and touches the core teachings of Sanatana Dharma.

Rajiv is also the founder of the non-profit Beyond Orders that connects soldiers in war zones with NGOs in the United States to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi and Afghani people.

Here are some excerpts from the essay of Rajiv Sriram Srinivasan titled My Battle Within: The Identity Crisis of a Hindu Soldier in the US Army. It was selected as the first prize winner in the age 23-28 category of HAF’s competition.

As I dawn my body armor, grab my weapon, and prepare to lead my platoon of 32 soldiers into Afghanistan, I hesitate. I turn to the portrait of Krishna in my office and demand of him, “What is the worth of this fight? Is it worth our limbs, our lives, or the heartbreak of our parents? What cause is so important as to merit the coming violence?” And so begins my war within: the quest for an identity.

The U.S. Army is a rare home for an Indian immigrant, but no other endeavor has ever given me the professional and spiritual fulfillment than the experience of military service. The army challenged my most extreme patriotic influences against my peaceful Hindu beliefs.

Through days of wet, cold, hot, humid, tired, and hungry, I maintained a vegetarian diet. After a long day of military training, I returned to my barracks to indulge myself in the poetry of the Bhagavad Gita. I found solace in Arjuna’s struggle as a shamed warrior fighting against his blood. I found strength in Krishna’s assertion of conviction and discipline. I found that, though typical Hindus and Soldiers lead vastly different lives, both share a common purpose: to serve a higher calling for good. Thus, there was no need for a struggle between my American and Hindu identities; rather, finding strength in one made me stronger in the other.

As Arjuna beckons of his charioteer, “How can I wage war against my family? I would rather surrender, than commit such atrocities”, Krishna affirms that it is our duty as Hindus to do what we believe is right, regardless of the opposition. When peaceful attempts to reconcile fail, we must be prepared to defend the values in which we so whole-heartedly believe. It is this reasoning that convinces Arjuna to fight to protect his kingdom. It is this reasoning that Gandhi used when supporting the British Army’s aggression against the Nazis in World War II. This reasoning is why I feel so compelled to defend this nation, that has given my family countless gifts, against those who wish to do it unnecessary harm. I do not fight in spite of my religion. I fight inspired by it.

Krishna’s picture sits in my office as a constant reminder of my Hindu-American Identity; a reminder that strength in principle outweighs the comfort of indifference. No matter what challenges lie ahead of me, I will bear my uniform each day with pride knowing I am defending a nation I truly love, and caring for a platoon of soldiers who do the same. It is through the discharge of my duties to God and Country that I have finally found the identity I was looking for all along; that of a fulfilled Hindu-American.