MEDICINE MAN: Surgeon Commander Manish Tayal with a patient
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by LAUREN CODLING

THE Royal Navy and Hindu communities should work together in order to increase recruitment, a senior officer in the forces has recommended.

Surgeon Commander Manish Tayal has been working as a medical officer in the Royal Navy since 2004. A practising Hindu, Tayal headed up the Armed Forces Hindu Network (AFHN) from 2014-2017, encouraging support for Hindu personnel and arranging faith events.

Tayal, 41, who was recently honoured with an MBE for his services to AFHN, said the lack of awareness within Hindu communities concerning the forces was the reason to organise events in order to encourage understanding.

“Before I joined, I knew nobody in the military,” the Manchester-born officer told Eastern Eye. “And that’s going to happen, isn’t it? Because the number of Asians across the board, British Asians, in the armed forces, is really low.”

As of October 2017, BAME personnel accounted for 7.5 per cent of the UK regular forces.

The AFHN has organised a number of events, including Raksha Bandhan in which the armed forces personnel visited various communities and temples, meeting with Hindu youngsters. Tayal has also helped to organise Diwali celebrations for the troops.

Surgeon Commander Manish Tayal at a Raksha Bandhan event in Cardiff

His own first experience with Diwali in the Royal Navy, which he cites as an influence for his motivation to celebrate the event in the forces, occurred while he was training at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

He had requested time off to go home to see his family at Diwali but was told he could
not. However, on the day of the festival, he was surprised by his division who had organised a Diwali party for him.

“They had decked the whole of the room with orange and red decorations. The divisional officers had bought traditional snacks and they had Indian music playing from a laptop in the corner,” he recalled. “I explained to them what Diwali was all about and we had a
great time – it was absolutely amazing.”

He said the experience taught him there were many important aspects of an individual which makes them who they are – be it race, religion or sexuality. During his Navy career, he has learnt how important these factors are.

“Ultimately, we want people to bring all that they are because that’s what makes the team better,” he said. “And that’s why I think these things are important because if your faith is important to you, then you need to be able to observe your faith and you need to be supported.”

A trained doctor, Tayal had no plans to join the Royal Navy. It was a chance encounter at a careers fair at Manchester University that led him down his career path.

“As a medical student, you don’t really go into career fairs because you know you are going to be a doctor and you’re going to work in the NHS,” he said.

At the event, he spoke to a submarine engineering officer who told him more about what the forces do and what opportunities he could have as a doctor.

Typically, Asian families encourage their children to earn academic qualifications, so it isn’t unusual that some do not consider a career in the military. However, it appeared that Tayal had the best of both worlds – a medical qualification and the opportunity to do something a little more adventurous.

“I guess the thing that attracted me was you get to do a lot more than just the daily 9-to-5 surgery. Lots of deploying lots of different types of medicine and you get all your exams paid for, all the courses you could possibly want, all the training you might want,” he revealed. “And on top of that, there’s obviously so many opportunities to learn different sports, and adventure training. It was a no-brainer, really.”

Tayal, however, admitted that his parents were initially concerned about him joining the forces. His father had applied to join the Navy in the 1960s, but as an immigrant was advised to rethink his choices, making him wary for his son.

“Thankfully, I didn’t experience any of that – Britain has moved on a lot in last 40
or 50 years,” he said.

Surgeon Commander Manish Tayal

After joining, Tayal took his father aboard a submarine for three days. It was an “amazing” experience for both of them, as his father finally managed to have the experience he had once dreamed of.

“I’ve been to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir… I’ve been on ships and submarines, a full range of stuff,” he said. “My parents are very proud of me.”

Today, Tayal continues to raise awareness within ethnic minority communities concerning what the forces do. He also supports individuals in observing their faith, as he realises the importance behind it.

“There is a need to support people in observing their faith because that is part of them,” he said. “They can bring that background, beliefs, values and the principals that come from that faith.”

“They can bring all of that to help them in their work.”