Nepali Times
Khaire Bhai
Ae Gorkhaliharu


As anyone who follows the British media will know, Prince Harry, third in line to the throne, was on secret military duty in Afghanistan. Apart from his pride and joy at being able to 'muck in' as one of the lads, Harry expressed his respect and admiration for the Royal Gurkha Rifles in which he served. He is also happy with the khukuri they have given him as a present.

Meanwhile, back in Pokhara and Dharan lots of new villas are coming onto the market as more and more ex-British Gurkhas and their families are leaving Nepal to settle in the UK. It's not just real estate-Nepal is apparently losing Rs 5 billion a year to lost remittances that are now staying on in England.

After many years of campaigning, ex-British Gurkhas won the right to apply for UK citizenship in 2004, and to settle there permanently with their families. So now many young Nepalis are now able to live the dream of going abroad without having to spend all that time studying for IELTS or queuing at the manpower agencies.

The British Army has been recruiting Gurkhas since the Anglo-Nepali War in 1816, and although the size of Gurkha regiments has been reduced drastically from more than 100,000 in the Second World War to some 3,500 today, they are still indispensable to the British Army-a fact which many officers admit without hesitation.

Why do they still hold the Gurkhas in such high regard? More or less for the same reasons that they first recruited them nearly 200 years ago. The civil and military bureaucracy which administered British India classified many of the hill peoples of Nepal as 'martial races', by which they were supposed to embody certain military virtues such as bravery, self-sufficiency, stoicism, loyalty, and honesty.

Though of course the terminology of the 19th century British Raj sounds somewhat ridiculous nowadays, one could guess that it is these same beliefs the British still have about the Gurkhas, the 'myth of Gorkhali', which to some extent motivated the British government to give citizenship rights to retired Gurkha servicemen. As usual, Britain reaps benefits.

Let me explain. In contrast to Nepal, which is burgeoning with youth, the UK's population is growing old. The demographic shift is becoming so serious that the country cannot replenish its workforce from its own birth rate alone. In this situation, although many in the country try to deny it on various emotive pretexts, Britain needs immigration in order to keep the economy functioning properly. And who are more obvious candidates than those the British Army Brigade of Gurkhas webpage calls "the closest of friends and bravest of allies that Britain has known"?

Nepali Gurkhas must be one of the most attractive groups the British government can hope to recruit en masse to join the UK job market. They are used to hard work, they have comparatively very few networks of organised crime or fraud (well, every country has some.), they have been trained in a variety of skills, have been long acclimatised to the British way of life, and generally have a positive view on Britain and British society. If some of the ex-servicemen are getting on a bit, there are always their children, hence bringing the family along is also a bonus.

Old men are happy when Gurkhas buy them drinks at the pub, old ladies like it when they help them get on the bus. The politeness with which all Nepalis, Gurkha or otherwise, treat strangers makes them model citizens in Britain, with its unspoken but rigidly-observed codes of courtesy and gentilhommerie.

All the waves of immigrants into Britain have enriched and benefited British society, but the settlement of Gurkhas and their families is something that many people especially welcome. They are a compliment to the country both economically and socially.

But although it is easy to understand their decision to leave war-weary and still struggling Nepal, it is also a loss for the country that some of its most able and progressive citizens are leaving for good, and with them their plans, dreams and capital which could have been a help for building a brighter future in Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)