Nepali Times
Invisible force


Shortly after Singapore left the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was temporarily moved out of his home at Oxley Road while security was beefed up. When Lee returned. he found Gurkha policemen posted as sentries. At that time, the Gurkhas were mainly used to quell riots and protests that were rampant during the '50s and '60s. Now, the safety of the prime minister was their responsibility as well.

The Gurkhas still guard 38 Oxley Road today. Forty-five years after our nation's independence, these soldiers from Nepal continue to protect Singapore's most important places and installations. Precious little is known about the Gurkhas except their reputation of unwavering loyalty and bravery. Yet the 60th anniversary of the Gurkha Contingent (GC) slipped by quietly last year.

Presently, the British conduct recruitment of Gurkhas yearly. Some 15,000 youths from all over Nepal vie for about 400 slots, around 100 of which are for the Singapore Police Force. The strength of the GC has been growing consistently over the years, from 760 in 1990 to over 2000 today.

Naturally, the Gurkhas are proud of their unique service to Singapore. "Without the GC, there is no peace and security in Singapore," retired Station Inspector Buddhi Gurung says. Underlying that pride is also a mountain of goodwill and genuine affection for a country they called home for almost thirty years.

But recently, rumblings of unhappiness have begun to surface among those who have retired and returned to Nepal, as Singapore law requires them to do. The biggest issue surrounding the retired Gurkhas is that of the pension paid out upon retirement. "Since the time I retired 10 years ago, prices of basic items like rice and gas have tripled in Nepal," says Netra Gurung, vice-chairman of the Singapore Gurkhas Pensioners' Association (SGPA). The association has scored a couple of small victories, with occasional pension reviews, but Gurung adds that the Gurkhas hope for an inflation allowance instead of arbitrary reviews.

The families of the Gurkhas remain another contentious issue. Widows of deceased servicemen do not get any part of their husbands' pensions and though the widows of Singaporeans on pension are subject to the same policy, the SGPA contends that the situation is not the same. The wives of Gurkhas are not allowed to seek employment during their time in Singapore and so have no skills other than being a housewife.

And while their children attend local schools in Singapore when their fathers are still in service, they are only allowed to finish their education within the institute they are enrolled in upon their fathers' retirement. They face great difficulty obtaining student visas once their fathers have retired. This is all the more perplexing as foreign students, even those from Nepal, usually have no problems obtaining student visas as long as they qualify for schools here. The Gurkha children seem paradoxically handicapped by their fathers' service to Singapore. Haridhoj Gurung, who was recently appointed chairman of the SGPA, says: "There is only one way to describe this situation Ė discrimination."

Official statistics show that slightly more than one out of three people living in Singapore are not citizens, but permanent residents and expatriates. Ministers go out of their way to explain the need for tolerance towards newcomers, stressing that we need them to boost the population because of falling birth rates, and to provide the skills the country needs.

Yet after spending more than half their lives protecting the island state's most important people and places, the Gurkhas and their families find themselves unwelcome the moment they hang up their blue uniforms.

Most Gurkhas do not seek citizenship or even permanent residence for themselves. After all, they arrive on our shores as foreign young men. What the Gurkhas do want are the same working opportunities extended to other foreigners and for their children not to be discriminated because of their fathers' service.

Such requests, made to the Singapore government through letters from the SGPA, continue to be ignored. The authorities are under no pressure to act anytime soon and Singaporeans are unaware of this situation. This is unlike the United Kingdom, where a very public lobbying effort led by actress Joanna Lumley pressured the British government into according full residential rights in 2009 to Gurkhas who serve more than four years. Kharga Gurung, an executive member of the SGPA, says: "The UK Gurkhas had support from the UK people and even the MPs. Maybe if the people of Singapore support us, we will have success too."

One Gurkha, who spent the '60s here fighting communists when the Malayan Communist Party was at the peak of its power, says: "I love Singapore. If anything bad happens, I am ready to fight. I am ready to go back and die for Singapore." What does it say when we repay such devotion by saying no to their requests to remain among us?

The Mount Vernon camp in Singapore houses 2000 Gurkhas and is something of a closed community.

SGPA Chairman Haridhoj Gurung laments the Singapore government's neglect of Gurkha issues: "We have been patient, but how long can we wait?"

Tulsi Gurung served as a Gurkha from 1951 to 1972, a tumultous phase of Singapore's history.

Ex-Singapore Gurkhas Ishor Thapa and Lal Ale share a beer in a Kathmandu restaurant.

Umesh Rana and Dino Gurung, born and raised in Singapore, appreciate fast food in Nepal.

Follow the river,†Paavan Mathema

1. Chandra Gurung

If the Gurkhas can do excellent jobs overseas in providing security, why can't they do the same in Kathmandu. It is just a question of opportunity given to them and the political will of the bureaucrats and the leaders of the country. We always admire and appreciate the commitment and devotion of the Gurkhas serving in foreign land. Hats off to these brave people in enhancing the name of Nepal. The first impression a British person has about Gurkhas is their unwavering loyalty and honesty to the masters. That is the reason why tens of thousands have found employment even in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

2. Gole
There is a saying.
Because of the generals we loose the war.
When the snobs are in the saddle it is good to loose your eye-sight.

3. G Wanem

The loyalty and honesty of the Gurkhas remains and survives even today; lest it's forgotten, the decadent temerity of the times, why able bodied young non-Aryan Nepalis were "recruited-off" to foreign armies by the rulers and nobles of Nepal was to propogate and inflict ethnic cleansing 'of their times' to remain in power.  Even today, equality and diversity is a non-starter in Nepal and is evident throughout Nepal, except to the minority of Nepalese who have good connections with the 'helmsters'.

On reflection, the strategy has succeeded as present Nepal descends even further into chaotic 'post jan-andolan' anarchy and mal-governance.   Today, Nepal is seeing its younger generation fleeing in search of better opportunities in the wider world - can our Nepali leaders blame them now for causing them to eke out a better future for themselves and their families?  

Our leaders have no vision or patriotic sense of duty to the country; the cogs and core mechanics that propel the country has eroded beyond recognition.  The next stage awaiting Nepal is a failed state declaration.  May the Lord avert us from such a catastrophic fate.

4. kishor khimdung rai

Its high time the SGPA did something to initiate the process of addressing the woes of the ex soldiers i Nepal, they previlages they should enjoy among many other things.

After serving a life time to to singapore, the Singapore government should at least treatthem with dignity. 


5. Chandra Gurung
(Note I am different Chandra Gurung than the poster earlier)
I don't know what the hell are you talking about. We are talking about the woe of Gurkhas in Singapore army, not here.
In case you don't know the history, the British lured the Gurkhas initially. Nepalese rulers didn't even allow recruiting post inside Nepalese border until late. If you read Hodgson's paper (of post Anglo Nepal war era), you would find how strategically useful it was for the Britons to hire Nepalese away.
If you are one of those khaire trying to divide Nepali population, you should really work hard to correct your fact straight.
Equality and diversity are slowly becoming part of our life. See, America too has these problems, almost all countries have. But in some aspects Nepal is moving in the right direction. For example, show me 33% women MPs in other countries? You can come up with very few, if any. So shut up with your racist rant.

6. yam gurung
Gurkhas are still strugling to find its equal 'Status'in home and abroad.Nepali and British regeime used the Gurkhas espeially the martial race from Nepal as an diplomacy currency in the international markets and collected a huge revenue.

7. G Wanem

Chandra Gurung - you jump to myopic conclusion without fully understanding the core crux of the issue.  Why do you think then did the Nepalese rulers permit recruiting by Britain?   Surely the answer is multi-pronged but you seem to gladly accept what's written by Hodgson.  Be imaginative and thinkly broadly; that is why we have brains. 

My comments are directly co-related to the mistreatment of former Singapore Gurkhas by the Singapore Government, it's how you understand it. You lack understanding of the word 'racist' and neither does equality and diversity mean women only.

8. Chandra Gurung
What makes you so imaginative? Facts are there. If you have something better, you better write in detail rather than preach it. 

Yea, and tell me which society in the world has full equality and diversity then?

You should better accept that you don't have all data at hand, you jump to conclusion too quick and are intolerant of others who are making arguments that runs counter to your weird conclusion.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)