Bhatnagars Overcome Obstacles, Expectations to Become Officers

By: Laura Poff

When Captain Indrani Bhatnagar moved to the United States from India with her mother at the age of 17, into an apartment her father had secured just north of downtown Atlanta, she had never attended a church, never opened a Bible.

Shortly after they arrived, her father’s former roommate, Srikant Bhatnagar, who would later become Indrani’s husband, invited the family to visit the Doraville Corps, knowing that they were Hindu, so that they could connect with the large community of Indian immigrants who worshipped there.

For her parents, it was a time of fellowship, but, for Indrani, who now commands the Washington, D.C., Sherman Avenue Corps alongside her husband, Captain Srikant Bhatnagar, it became much more. She was moved by her corps officer’s work and the message of giving, serving and sacrificing for others. Jesus’ example reflected in the lives of believers was very appealing to her.

“The people who were living their lives as he taught caught my eye. That’s what I wanted to be.”

She decided to attend the Alpha course, a class designed for non-Christians who want to learn about the faith, at the Atlanta Temple Corps, walking into the building with a new Bible in her hand. She joined the corps Bible study class and soon signed up for soldiership classes. At the corps, she found mentorship, friendship and support. At home, with her parents, she did not.

“When I became a soldier, I knew that I wanted to be an officer,” she said. “My parents did not take it well.”

They pleaded with her to change her mind, fearing that their extended family and friends would shun them if their only child abandoned their religion. When she held firm to her calling, they were devastated, and Indrani, feeling responsible, hid her corps involvement from them.

Not long after, she learned that she would need to have surgery which, without insurance, she couldn’t afford in the U.S. She decided to return to India with her parents to have the procedure done. While there, her parents took away her green card and other documents, effectively trapping her in their home. Several weeks later, she used the phone at a shop nearby to call Srikant and tell him what had happened, giving him her family’s cell phone number so that he could call back to tell her when he would arrive at her house in India to bring her home.

“’February 20th, 6 a.m.,’ that’s all I got,” Indrani said.

She woke in the middle of the night to search for her green card and met Srikant in a taxi outside of her parents’ home. When a neighbor saw her alone and asked where she was going, she panicked. Though she was an adult, as an unmarried woman she was still culturally required to obey her parents.

“I could have been killed, my husband could have been killed, the taxi driver would’ve been killed,” she said.

Srikant and Indrani switched taxis several times before arriving in New Delhi to purchase flights and secure Indrani’s paperwork. When they landed in the Atlanta airport several days later, then Major Allan Hofer picked them up and told them that her parents had beat them home.

“They were going to Atlanta Temple, grabbing his legs, crying, hitting themselves and asking for their daughter back,” she said.

The Hofers worked with divisional and territorial officers to hide Indrani until she and Srikant, who was already an officer, could be married in a small ceremony at the Shreveport, Louisiana, Corps. She informed her parents one month later and they did not speak to her until her oldest son was born three years later. Indrani’s father did eventually accept her choice and moved in with her family after he was diagnosed with ALS last year. A few months later, he died.

“My father did a lot for me, and the hardest part was knowing that I hurt him,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I had any choice. God’s love is worth it. His love is so definitely worth it.”