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Review: The World Beyond the Mountains (Satis Shroff)

Byron Farwell: The Gurkhas, Penguin 1985, London, 317 pages, ISBN o-14-007569-0

 

 

‘The Gurkhas’ is a history of the finest infantrymen in the world who come from a country where ‘It is better to die than to be a coward,’ and where most bear the name Bahadur, which means ‘courageous,’ and who carry out their mission with the help of the deadly, curved kukris.

 

Ayo Gurkhali!’ Here come the Gurkhas! Is a battlecry that makes their enemies in battle wince, and sometimes abandon their weapons to save their dear lives. Younghusband marched unopposed into Lhasa on August 3, 1904 with his Gurkhas. During the Falkland War the Argentines fled when they realized that they were being outflanked by the Gurkhas.

 

Byron Farwell narrative about the Gurkha battalions and their military engagements are enhanced by citations from the books on the same, making it a jolly reading material. The readability score is good and the book is studded with historical photographs of the Gurkhas’ acts of gallantry.

 

Farwell served as an officer in North Africa and Italy in the Second World War and later also in the Korean War. He has travelled more than a hundred countries. His other books are: The Man Who Presumed, a biography of Sir Richard Burton bearing the title ‘Burton,’ Prisoners of the Mahdi, Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, the Great Boer War, and a social history of the Victorian and Edwardian Army with the title ‘For Queen and Country.’ In 1986 Viking published his ‘Eminent Victorian Soldiers’ and he’s a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature since 1964.

 

Farwell’s book is a comprehensive history of the lives and achievements of the Gurkha soldiers of Nepal in the Indian and later British Gurkhas after India gained its independence, and about the extraordinary relationship which existed, and apparently still exists between the British officer and Johnny Gurkha. Since the author served as an officer in the North Africa and Italian campaigns in the Second World War, it’s only natural that he enthuses about the cheerful, stocky hillmen of Nepal.

 

As to the sources used by the author, he has relied much on regimental histories and the autobiographical works of officers who served with the Gurkhas. Farwell has used the Indian Army’s English annual journal called ‘The Gurkha.’Besides that he used ‘The Khukri,’ a similar journal published by the British Brigade of Gurkhas and interview with some officers. It might be mentioned that not all acts of bravery were noted in the past. Citing an item on a Gurkha from the Third Battalion of the 8th Gurkha Rifles, he mentions: ‘Particular mention must be made of the courage of 86600 Rifleman Punaram Pun. Unfortunately he died. We never know how Pun distinguished himself.

 

The book has 29 chapters devoted to war and peace in Nepal, the role of the Gurkhas in Delhi, made famous by Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’ film. The chapter on Character and Characteristics deals with how Johnny Gurkha ticks. There are chapters devoted to Gurkhas in Afghanistan in the olde days, the North East Frontier, how Gurkhas are recruited, the role of the Nepalese warriors in World War I (France), Gallipoli, Suez and Mesopotamia. A chapter on Gurkha officers, relationships, Nepalese festivals (Dasain and Tihar), home, family, preparing for battle (World War II), the North African War in the Second World War, South East Asia, Italy, retreat from Burma, Chindits, India’s independence and partition, the savage wars of peace, Borneo, reduction of force and retirement. The role of the Gurkhas today and tomorrow. The book has a four-point appendix and the last one is about the Gurkha tribes.

 

In the aftermath of the Falklands, the author stated, ‘there will continue to be a place for these Nepalese mercenaries in the British Army. In a world unwilling to abandon war as a means of settling disputes the Gurkhas will always play a role as warriors or as peace-keepers.

 

The steadfast, stocky, courageous Gurkhas have never deserted their British officers. But two Brit officers Major Boileau and Captain Butcher who deserted their Gurkha soldiers at the Residency, were court-martialled and cashierd.

 

The first edition of the book was published by Allen Lane in 1984 which was after the Falkland war. Farwell writes:’Mercenaries have been in bad odour in recent years, but the trade is an ancient and enduring one. He cites A.E. Housman who had praise for them in ‘Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries:

 

What God abandoned, these defended,

And saved the sum of things for pay.’

 

In his book Farwell is conspicuous for his branding the Gurkhas as ‘mercenaries’ throughout the text. During the Falkland War the British MoD was politically embarrassed by the Argentinians at the UNO that the Brits were using ‘mercenary Gurkhas’ for the battle in the Malvinas. This made the Brit government declare with emphasis that the Gurkhas ‘were an integral part of the British Army. If that was so why did Johnny Gurkha receive only half the pay of a Britsh Tommy all these years? Why weren’t the children of the Gurkhas allowed to go to British schools to earn their GCE ‘A’ levels? Generations of Asian schoolkids domiciled in England have been passing the exams and studying in British colleges and universities. Why not the Gurkha school-kids? When you ask such questions you either get a diplomatic silence or some silly excuse about a British-Nepalease Treaty dating back to 1816 forgetting that we’re in the 21 century, in here and now in the UK.   

 

The sad part of the Gurkha-story is that the Brits never intended to integrate the generations of Gurkhas, who served in Britain’s Army and fought its wars, into the British society. This issue has always been taboo in British military circles. The Gurkhas should die serving the Queen and the Union Jack but they should return to Nepal when their service contract was over, much like Helmut Kohl’s Turkish guest-workers who were invited to Germany to run the factories for the German males had died in the war or were crippled and couldn’t work. Kohl hoped that the Turks would return to their homes. The Turks, Italians, Spaniards and Portugese weren’t obedient, disciplined and loyal like the Gurkhas. They knew what democracy was and that they had rights to live in Germany. The Brits sent the Gurkhas home to Nepal whenever there was disagreement. You could court martial a Gurkha for disobedience, but the so-called Gastarbeiter (guest-worker) in Germany weren’t soldiers and nothing could subordinate them. They fought for their rights, like the second generation of workers’ children who were born in Britain. The Gurkhas were left alone. Not one Brit officer came forward to fight for the cause of their oh-so-heroic Gurkhas because there were scared stiff that the MoD would fire them. It was a strange ‘special’ relationship between the Gurkhas and their officers. Not a single officer worth his grain opened his mouth. It took a Joanna Lumley, a woman, to corner a minister about the Gurkha Issue with a running camera.

 

Whereas Byron Farwell doesn’t look at the Gurkhas from the anthropological view, he does compare the Gurkhas among themselves in terms of tribes and clans, which is typical of colonialists out to seek the best of Mongolian hillmen from Nepal and to turn them into obedient, loyal fighting-machines. In this process he quotes from the sources listed on the last few pages of his book. What emerges is a Gurkha profile as an ideal rifleman who’s brave, tough, patient, adaptable, skilled in fieldcraft, proud of his military record and unswerving loyal towards their bread-givers: the MoD in London and Delhi.

 

It is said that the Gurkhas can stand hardships and anything, except abuse.

 

And yet they have been abused by both the Nepal Durbar and the British Ministry of Defence, despite the Gurkhas’ ‘selfless devotion to the British cause, which can hardly matched by any race to another in the whole world history of the world. Why they should have thus treated us is something of a mystery.’ It was General Francis Tuker who said that. Farwell adds: ‘Indeed; and a mystery which needs to be explored, for while the Brits undoubtedly had enormous affection for the Gurkhas, they failed in the event to match their loyalty.’

 

The author’s purpose in this book was to bring in a historical account of the Gurkhas from Nepal and how and where they fought under the Union Jack from Queen Victoria’s times till the Falkland War, for that’s where the book ends. The reader learns a great deal about the Gurkha regiments and Brigades in British India, independent India and the Gurkhas in Britain and Hong Kong, along with the role of the Gurkhas in Britain’s skirmishes around the world. Since this book was published in 1984 an up-to-date sequel is imperative to keep the readers abreast with new developments. Nevertheless, the author has done a good job in presenting the Gurkhas to readers around the globe for they have fought Britain’s wars in France, Gallipoli, Suez and Mesopotemia in the First World War and in almost every front in the Second World War from Singapore to Italy and North Africa.

 

What does it mean to a Gurkha to be refused at a Gurkha recruiting depot? It means an anticlimax and shame to a prospective soldier. Most young men bid farewell to everyone they know in their villages in a solemn ceremony. The mother presents him a handful of coins which he distributes to his girl-friends who’re waiting along the path. Failed recruits don’t wish to return home. I knew a young man, a school drop-out, who went to the British Camp in Dharan (Nepal) was rejected, and instead of returning home in shame and ignominy, he chose to work as a school-teacher in a local school in the hills, and a year later passed the recruitment test to join the British Gurkhas. He returned home after two years with lots of presents for his family and relatives, and wore immaculate Hong Kong tailor-designed suits, and went for walks much like the elderly veterans in his hometown. According to Farwell ‘every young man who set off for the recruiting depot was confident of acceptance.

 

In reality the story of the Gurkhas isn’t always courage and glory. In letters home during the First and Second World Wars many Gurkhas wrote to their parents, friends and girl-friends about the loneliness, absurdity and fear in the trenches but these letters were opened, censored and never reached their destinations for they were withheld by the MoD, and now given free for public viewing in the archived of the British Museum.

 

The Gurkhas as a theme are topical, much like the US Navy Seals and the French Foreign Legion, and the significance of the Gurkhas and their tribulations and woes at the hands of London’s MoD which has, in recent times, led to court cases of the Gurkhas versus the MoD. This book provides a good background of how the Gurkhas, as a cheap mercenary force to fight Britain’s battles in the world fronts, on a hire-and-fire basis. To this end, young Nepalese men join the Gurkhas and are exposed a world of new experiences, depending on whether they are doing guard duty in front of the Buckingham Palace or elsewhere. In order to adapt they had only to do as they were told; the army took care of them.

 

Were the Gurkhas integrated into British lifestyle? The answer is no. They were confined to their barracks. If they ever fought against against discrimination, they were sent back to Nepal. They lived a parallel life, divided by culture and religion. There has always been a latent racial prejudice in the ranks of the officers and the MoD. British identity was seen in the 1950s in racial terms but in the 1990s Britishness became simply the ability to tolerate different religions, and ethnicity as an affirmation of who they are. Whereas outside the Gurkha barracks, youths of Asian and Carribean origin who were genuine British passport holders, fought for their political and social rights in Britain, and helped to generate political struggles against discrimination by creating bridges across ethnic, racial and cultural barriers, the Gurkhas have always had a ghetto existence in their British barracks, aloof from what went on politically in the United Kingdom. When the MoD came up with cuts in military manpower, the loyal, courageous, cheerful, obedient Gurkhas were obliged to accept it as their fate as ‘mercenary soldier’ who could be hired-and-booted out as the situation demanded. No insurance, no NHS-benefits, no accommodation outside the barracks. No chance to mingle and fraternize with the British civilians. They were kept, and still are, like the asylum-seekers in Switzerland. At 10 pm they have to be in their barracks.

 

There were always human resources in the hills of Nepal for the next battle anywhere in the world. Despite their sterling qualities, the Gurkhas have been given a raw deal in terms of remuneration in the British Army. Whereas the migration to Britain made central in the curriculum of secondary schools, whereby pupils are expected to learn core ‘Brit’ values such as tolerance, respect, freedom of speech and justice and learn of the shared British heritage, the Gurkhas and their children still feel alienated in Britain, and left out from the bebefits of the civil society. For its fighting force Britain recruits young, enthusiastic men from Nepal but what happens to the Gurkhas who have developed gerontological problems? The NHS turns a deaf ear and the MoD too.

 

The first migrants landed in Britain in 1948 and integration of Asians from India, Pakistan and later Bangladesh as well as West Indians has partially worked well. The interracial marriage between black-white is high at 40% but Asians prefer not to marry white women and Asian women are married off by their parents with partners from their former home countries or males who’ve grown up in Britain. The West Indians are also well represented in politics (MPs or councellors). Asian children are regarded as being diligent and assimilation in education is good. Education and employment go hand in hand. The hardworking Asians possess business acumen. Underlying racial prejudice still exists in the UK which is regarded as a ‘mind matter’ which no law can possibly change, much like in Germany where neonazis are facing trial for killing migrants who were shop-owners.

 

The Gurkhas are known for their ability to adapt to different combat environments in the jungle, desert, craggy terrain, and he can also adapt in Britain’s jungle of concrete, given the opportunity by their officers, MoD and Her Majesty’s government. It’s high time the Gurkhas came home to Britain to roost with all the benefits that the British society has to offer for they have been ignored and treated as foster-children for too long. A start has been made by Gurkhas who have appointed solicitors to fight for their rights in British courts. It took long time for the Gurks, as they are fondly called by the Brits, to react in the British society. The Gurkhas are catching on and are absorbing so-called ‘alien, unregimental ideas’ which are democratic, humane and beneficial to them.

 

Why do the British use Nepal as a human warehouse for its wars? Kalunga (Nepal) has gone in the annals of British Military History as a bloody affair, and the British suffered greater casualty than the Gurkha, even though the latter were outnumbered. Balbahadur lost 520, the British lost 31 officers and 750 other ranks. But in the end Ochterlony defeated the Gurkha General Amar Singh at Jaithak, and once again in a decisive battle at Malaun. What followed was the Treaty of Segauli signed on march 4,1816. Nepal was obliged to give up the provinces of Kumaon and Gharwal, as well as the lower Terai. Moreover, Nepal had to accept a British Resident and the most curious and important clause in the Segauli Treaty was that it gave the ‘British the right to recruit Nepalese subjects.’ What remains of the two battles are two tiny obelisks erected by the Brits at Kalunga (20 km from the India border-town Raxaul) dedicated to General Rollo Gillespie and his British and Indian dead. The other obelisk is dedicated to their gallant adversaries. ‘The love affair’ between the Brits and the doughty little Mongolian hillmen had begun and has lasted 194 years.

 

Farwell writes: ‘the Gurkhas being mercenaries, enlisted for pay. Indeed the pay, low though it was, seemed attractive to those from a land where there is little hard cash. They also wanted to leave ‘the confined and restrictive life of the mountain village and to see the world beyond the mountains.

 

A scheme to admit Gurkhas to military institutions of higher learning began in the 1950s. A line boy officer cadet Bijay Kumar Rawat was the best overall officer cadet at Sandhurst.

 

Ironically enough in recent times the Brigade of the Gurkhas have been deployed in the Hindukush, and a Brit Gurkha officer was disgusted that a Johnny Gurkha took out the head of a Taliban he’d slashed with his khukri. During the World War II the war in Burma was brutal. A patrol of the 4/8th Gurkhas brought back to camp the severed head of a Japanese officer. Lieutenant Colonel Walter C. Walker, the battalion commander, had it nailed to the trunk of a tree near his bunker. The head had a ‘wispy beard and a drooping moustache.’

 

Byron Farwell speaks of the ‘zest of the Gurkhas in their pursuit of the retreating Japanese has been compared to that of terriers after rats.’ One British commander offered a reward for each head brought in and one Gurkha havildar returned with six bloody ears in his haversack. The commander asked where the heads were. The Gurkha replied, ‘Too heavy to carry, sahib.’

At another skirmish forty Japanese ran into a Gurkha trap  and the Lieutenant Commander McCready of the 1/10th Gurkhas commented: ‘There was a great blooding of khukris and ..no wounded were brought back.’ Lalbahadur Limbu received an immediate award of the Military Cross.

 Are told by veterans in the hills of Nepal. What the Gurkha did in Afghanistan was to re-live one such story he’d heard in his childhood. It was the British officers who encouraged and rewarded such feats and took delight in them and bragged about their men at the mess-halls and officer’s clubs, and they still do it.

 

Recently, a pensioned old Gurkha was going for a walk and was robbed by a white gang who took away the Rolex watch he was wearing. There’s no human warmth and consideration among the urban gang members, and they’re known to be ruthless and cold. A Gurkha’s past isn’t interesting to them and they don’t care what happens to them. Their cool heroes are Scarface and Goodfellas. Welcome to Britain today. Daylight break-ins muggings and car thefts are common in parts of London. Freiburg (Germany), where I live is known for its bicycle thieves. When it comes becomes dark the police in Brixton are unwilling to go to the trouble spots.

 

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Summary: Nepalese journalist Satis Shroff wrote about a Nepalese mother who waits for her to return from the British Gurkha Army in vain. This story has affected thousands of mothers in Nepal, a poverty-stricken country where the sons join the foreign armies  to eke out a living because they have no chance to educate themselves formally, and life is hard and competitive in Nepal. Satis has written a series of articles on the Gurkhas in the media and it was only recently that the Gurkhas were granted the right to stay in Britain, educate their children and receive the benefits of the NHS. For 200 years the loyal, dedicated Gurkhas were treated as merchandise, discriminated and sent home on a hire-and-fire basis. Many Gurkhas have fought their cases against Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) in courts in London and have won in recently because they have at last broken their silence

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnNymFm3TaM

 

 

 

A GURKHA MOTHER’S TEARS  (Satis Shroff)

(Death of a Precious Jewel)

 

 

A Nepalese mother sits in front of her verandah, smokes her crude cigarette looks at the lofty Himalayan peaks and asks:

‘My Nepal, what has become of you?’

Your features have changed with time. The innocent face of the Kumari has changed to that of the blood-thirsty countenance of Kal Bhairab, from development to destruction, from bikas to binas.

‘I have lived to see a crown prince who fell in love, but couldn’t assert himself, in a palace where ancient traditions still prevail. Despite Eton college and a liberal education, he chose guns instead of rhetoric, and ended his young life, as well as those of his parents and other royal members. An aunt from London aptly remarked on Nepal TV: He was like the terminator.’

Another bloodshed in a Gorkha palace, recalling the Kot massacre under Jung Bahadur Rana.

You’re no longer the same. There’s insurrection and turmoil against the government and the police. Your sons and daughters are at war, with the Gurkhas again. Maobadis with revolutionary flair, with ideologies from across the Tibetan Plateau and Peru.Ideologies that have been discredited elsewhere, flourish in the Himalayas.

Demanding a revolutionary-tax from tourists and Nepalis with brazen, bloody attacks, fighting for their own rights and the rights of the bewildered common man.

Well-trained government troops at the orders of politicians safe in Kathmandu. Leaders, who despise talks and compromises, flex their tongues and muscles, and let the imported automatic salves speak their deaths. Ill-armed guerrillas against well-armed Royal Gurkhas in the foothills of the Himalayas. Where will this end?

Nepali children have no chance, but to take sides. To take to arms not knowing the reason and against whom. The child-soldier gets orders from grown-ups and the hapless souls open fire.

Hukum is order, the child-soldier cannot reason why.

 

Shedding precious human blood, for causes they both hold high.

 

Ach, this massacre in the shadow of the Himalayas.

We, Nepalis, look out of our ornate windows, in the west, east, north and south Nepal and think: how long will this krieg go on? How much do we have to suffer? How many money-lenders, businessmen, civil servants, khaki-clad policemen and Gurkhas do the Maobadis want to kill. Or be killed?

How many men, women, boys and girls have to be mortally injured till Kal Bhairab is pacified by the Sleeping Vishnu? How many towns and villages in the seventy five districts

Do the Maobadis want to free from capitalism? When the missionaries close their schools,

Must the Hindus and Buddhists shut their temples and shrines? Shall atheism be the order of the day? Not in Nepal.

It breaks my heart, as I hear over the radio: Nepal’s not safe for visitors. Visitors who leave their money behind, in the pockets of travel agencies, rug dealers, currency and drug dealers,

and hordes of ill-paid honest Sherpas, Thakali, Gurung and Tamang porters. Sweat beads trickling from their sun-burnt faces, in the dizzy heights of the Dolpo, Annapurna ranges and the Khumbu glaciers, eking out a living and facing the treacherous icy crevasses, snow-outs, precipices and a thousand deaths.

Beyond the beaten trekking paths live the poorer families of Nepal. No roads, no schools, sans drinking water and sans hospitals.

Where aids and children’s work prevail.

The dynasties of Lichhavis, Thakuris and Mallas have made you eternal. Man Deva inscribed his title on the pillar of Changu, after great victories over neighbouring states. Amshu Verma was a warrior and mastered the Lichhavi Code. He gave his daughter in marriage to Srong Beean Sgam Po, the ruler of Tibet, who also married a Chinese princess.

 

Jayastathi Malla ruled long and introduced the system of the caste, a system based on the family occupation, that became rigid with the tide of time.

 

Yaksha Malla the ruler of Kathmandu Valley, divided it into Kathmandu, Patan and Bhadgaon for his three sons.

It was Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha, who brought you together, as a melting pot of ethnic diversities, with Gorkha conquests that cost the motherland thousands of ears, noses and Nepali blood. The spoils of that war can be seen even today at the temple in Kirtipur.

The Ranas usurped the royal throne and put a prime minister after the other for 104 years.

104 years of a country in poverty and medieval existence. It was King Tribhuvan’s proclamation and the blood of the Nepalis, who fought against the Gorkhas under the command of the Ranas, that ended the Rana autocracy.

His son King Mahendra saw to it that he held the septre when Nepal entered the UNO. The multiparty system along with the Congress party was banned. Then came thirty years of Panchayat promises of a Hindu rule with a system based on the five village elders, like the proverbial five fingers in one’s hand, that are not alike and yet functioned in harmony.

The Panchayat government was indeed an old system, from the holy days of the Vedas, packed and sold as a new and traditional one.

A system is just as good as the people who run it. And Nepal didn’t run. It revived the age-old chakary, feudalism  with its countless spies and yes-men, middle-men who held out their hands for bribes, perks and amenities.

Poverty, caste-system with its divisions and conflicts, discrimination, injustice, bad governance became the nature of the day.

A big chasm appeared between the haves-and-have-nots. The social inequality, frustrated expectations of the poor led to a search for an alternative pole. The farmers were ignored, the forests and land confiscated, corruption, bad-governance and inefficiency became the rule of the day.

Even His Majesty’s servants went so far as to say: Raja ko kam, kahiley jahla gham.

This birthplace of the holy and enlightened Buddha and the Land of Pashupati, a land which King Birendra declared a Zone of Peace, through signatures of the world’s leaders was at war a decade long.

Bush’s government paid 24 million dollars for development aid, another 14 million dollars for insurgency relevant spendings, 5,000 M-16 rifles from the USA, 5,500 machine guns from Belgium.

Guns that were aimed at Nepali men, women and children in the mountains of Nepal. Alas, under the shade of the Himalayas, this corner of the world became volatile again.

People I knew changed sides, from Mandalay to Congress, from Congress to the Maobadis.

From Hinduism to Communism. Even Nepal’s bahuns vied with each other to become the first communists for there were important political positions to be given away to party-members. Ah, Dolpo and Silgadi, made unforgettable by Peter Mathiessen in his quest for his inner self, and his friend George Schaller’s search for the snow leopard, was where Nepali students wrote Marxist verses and acquired volumes from the embassies in Kathmandu: Kim Il Sung’s writings, Mao’s red booklet, Marx’s Das Kapital and Lenin’s works. They defended socialist ideas at His Majesty’s Central Hostel in Tahachal and elsewhere. This was the fruit of the scholarships given to Nepalese students by the Soviet government to later create a Russian-speaking elite in developing and least-developed countries, just the way the Brits had done with the Indians, Burmese, Malays and Africans in their former colonies.

I see their earnest faces, then with books in their arms, later with guns. Trigger-happy, boisterous and ready to fight to the end for a cause they cherish in their frustrated and fiery hearts: to do away with poverty, royalty, corruption, nepotism and capitalism and feudalism.

But weren’t these sons of Nepal misguided and blinded by the initially sweeping victories of socialism?

Even Gorbachov, the baldy man with a red forehead, pleaded for Peristroika, and Putin had shown his admiration for Germany, its culture and commerce.

Look at the old Soviet Union, and other East Bloc nations. They have all swapped sides and are EU and Nato members.

Globalisation has changed the world fast, but in Nepal time stands still. The blind beggar at the New Road gate sings: lata ko desh ma, gaddha tantheri. In a land where the tongue-tied live, the deaf desire to rule.

 

Oh my Nepal, quo vadis?

The only way to peace and harmony  is by laying aside the arms forever. Let there be no more bloodshed among the Nepalese and Gurkhas, and let no Gurkha raise his khukri against another’s throat. I know it’s wishful thinking in this Kali Yuga, this Age of  Darkness. I wanted my son to be an educated person with the pension earned by my husband, but he went his own way, following others like him in their youthful, capricious manners. He became a school dropout, joined the British Gurkhas in Dharan and away he was out in the wide world, across the Black Waters, as we call the Oceans. He wrote beautiful cards from Hong Kong, the Rhine towns and London. I felt so proud to have a son who wrote such lovely cards, I a Gurkha widow, withering in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Sometimes I ask myself, can Nepal afford to be the bastion of a movement and a government

that rides rough-shod over the lives and rights of fellow Nepalis? Can’t we learn from the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq? The people in the Hindukush must be suffering since centuries. The Pathans and Pashtoon chieftains fought even in the times of Queen Victoria and even before that. The British took their Gurkha troops to fight against the Afghans. A British captain wrote home to his parents: ‘You have no idea what fine little fellows the Goorkhas are. They actually do not know what fear is.’

Yes, this fearless attitude has been a boon to the Gurkhas but also the cause of death, which has made thousands of Gurkha mothers weep dearly. I dare not think about the mothers of the soldiers slain by our Gurkhas. The Gurkhas were our sons and when they were in battle they also had fear like any other soldiers. Piles of letters written by the Gurkhas in the battlefields were confiscated, censored and not sent to families and relatives in Nepal. The Gurkhas love their legends but behind these legends there’s also another story. The story of a soldier who was discriminated by his officers, cheated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). When a British Gurkha became an invalid or developed illness, he was shipped to Nepal as soon as possible, and didn’t enjoy the benefits of the NHS. Healthy Gurkhas were and are always good Gurkhas. The Royal Palace and the former Nepalese governments did little to assist the Gurkhas in their demands for equal pay in the British Army. In the Falkland War the Argentinians protested at the UNO that the Brits were using mercenaries to fight under the Union Jack. The British MoD replied that the Gurkhas were a part of the British Army. If they were a part of the British Army when had they been given only half the pay that a British Tommy got? Why weren’t the children of the Gurkhas given the right to learn and sit for the GCE examinations? Why were Gurkhas just sacked and sent home on the hire-and-fire principle? Perhaps because we Nepalese or Gurkhas haven’t put much emphasis on education and there are only a few Nepalese who are solicitors who can put the case of the Gurkhas forwards in the British, European or International courts.

Meanwhile, the Maobadis, as Maoists are called in Nepal, have been given a chance at the polls, like all other democratic parties, for the Maobadis are bahuns and chettris, be they Prachanda or Baburam Bhattrai, leaders who fought against monarchy and later even preferred to retain it in Nepal.

After the massacre of the Royals in the Narayanhiti Palace by Prince Dipendra, Birendra’s brother Gyanendra Shah ascended the throne in a blitz ceremony. What better chance for a constitutional monarch, a re-incarnated Vishnu, who held the executive, judiciary, legislative, spiritual and temporal powers in the shadow of the Himalayas to flourish again? The people thought otherwise, and the Nepalese Maoists marched into Kathmandu and the Valley became a scarlet sea.

 

* * *

 

 

The Gurkha with a khukri but no enemy, works not for his country but for the Queen of England since the times of Queen Victoria. Yet gets shot at in missions he doesn’t comprehend. Order is hukum, hukum is life and Johnny Gurkha still dies under foreign skies.

He never asks why, politics isn’t his style. He’s fought against all and sundry: Turks, Tibetans, Italians and Indians, Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Argentinians and Vietnamese, Indonesians and Iraqis.

Loyalty to the utmost and never fearing a loss. The loss of a mother’s son from the mountains of Nepal.

My grandpa died in Burma for the glory of the British. My husband in Mesopotemia, I honestly do not know against whom for no one did tell me. My brother fell in France, against the Teutonic hordes.

I pray everyday to Shiva of the Snows for peace and my son’s safety. My joy and my hope, as I do farming on a terraced slope. A son who helped wipe my tears and ease the pain in my mother-heart. I’m his frugal mother, who lives by the seasons and peers down to the valleys, year in and year out in expectation of my dear soldier son.

One fine day, two smart Gurkhas are underway, heard from across the hill with a shout, as is the communication-custom in our hilly country:

‘It’s an officer from his battalion and an orderly.’

A letter with a scarlet seal and two poker-faces.

‘Your son died on duty,’ said the blue-eyed and red-headed British officer, ‘keeping peace for the country and Her Majesty the Queen of England.’ The Gurkha orderly near him translated into Nepali.

A world crumbled down. I couldn’t bring myself to utter even a word. Gone was my son, my precious jewel. My only insurance and sunshine in the craggy hills of Nepal. And with him my dreams. A spartan life that kills.

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 Dalit issue: Towards Rights for  the Poor, Untouchables, Underdogs of the Nepalese Society

     
 

Nepal’s new constitution must recognize and protect the fundamental human rights of Dalits, says a new
report released today by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law. The report was released on the heels of Nepal?s historic Constituent Assembly elections held on April 10, 2008.

The 89-page report Recasting Justice: Securing Dalit Rights in Nepal?s New Constitution analyzes Nepal?s Interim Constitution to inform how the new constitution may be drafted in accordance with the country?s international human rights obligations to secure the rights of Dalits-a group which has faced more than 2000 years of systematic discrimination on the basis of caste. As Nepal prepares its new constitution after years of prolonged civil war, Recasting Justice provides Nepalese lawmakers with tangible means to demonstrate the country?s commitment to the inherent dignity and human rights of all individuals.

The caste system is an affront to human dignity and inimical to the right to equality under international law,? said Smita Narula, Faculty Director at CHRGJ and an expert on caste discrimination. ?Nepal?s new constitution must strike at the heart of this inhumane system, or risk perpetuating the very injustices that fueled its conflicts of the past.?

The report’s principal areas of focus correspond with Nepal’s international human rights treaty obligations, which include ensuring: nondiscriminatory access to citizenship; the right to equality and non-discrimination; civil and political rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; women’s rights; children’s rights; the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; and the right to a remedy for human rights violations. Nepal has to date fallen far short of meeting these human rights obligations, as is shown by the reality of the Nepalese Dalit experience. While the Interim Constitution takes commendable steps toward human rights, significant gaps remain in the protection of Dalit rights.

Caste discrimination and the practice of untouchability have ensured the complete subordination of Dalits who, based on some unofficial estimates, comprise up to 25 percent of Nepal?s population, yet own only one percent of Nepal?s wealth and arable land. Although some Dalits have excelled despite the caste system’s substantial constraints, a large percentage remain vulnerable to extreme forms of exploitation. Upper-caste? community members typically force Dalits to live in segregated communities; forbid them from entering public spaces; deny them access to food, water, and land; and coerce them into caste-based occupations considered too „ritually impure“ for higher castes. Attempts by Dalits to defy this prescribed social order are met with punitive violence and social ostracism. Dalit women and girls bear the dual brunt of caste and gender discrimination. The exclusion of Dalits from all facets of governance has ensured their continued marginalization and their unequal receipt of the state?s attention and resources. This political marginalization also makes them particularly vulnerable to abuses such as torture and arbitrary detention, abuses that were ripe during the conflict.


‘The new constitution should act as a roadmap for how Nepal will meet its international human rights obligations,’ said Jayne Huckerby, CHRGJ’s Research Director. It must finally answer the long overdue call for Dalit rights.

The report’s recommendations are based on a detailed analysis of Nepal?s obligations under international human rights law. Among its key recommendations, CHRGJ calls on the Constituent Assembly to ensure that Nepal’s new constitution:

§ facilitates political representation and meaningful participation of Dalits and other marginalized communities in decision-making bodies, including the Constituent Assembly which will draft the new constitution;
§ ensures nondiscriminatory access to citizenship;
§ explicitly prohibits private acts of discrimination;
§ explicitly prohibits the use of religion to encroach upon fundamental rights;
§ explicitly guarantees the right to health and the right to freely choose or accept employment;
§ adopts a definition of torture beyond acts that occur in traditional custodial detention; and,
§ extends the right to constitutional remedy to non-citizens.

Recasting Justice was produced in close cooperation with Dalit advocates and members of the legal community in Nepal and draws on the expertise of Nepalese academics and international constitutional scholars. In November 2007, CHRGJ also conducted extensive in-country interviews with Dalit rights advocates, members of the Nepalese legal community, and representatives of international organizations. The report includes detailed factual information on human rights abuses against Dalits in Nepal and builds on both CHRGJ?s expertise on caste discrimination and international human rights law.

The report?s findings and recommendations have been endorsed by the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), a non-governmental organization based out of Copenhagen which brings together national solidarity networks and Dalit NGO platforms from around the world. IDSN welcomed the unprecedented inclusion of Dalits in the Constituent Assembly, adding that far more needs to be done.

?Nepal faces a historic opportunity to eliminate this entrenched system of radical inequalities,? said Rikke Nöhrlind, IDSN?s Coordinator, ?This report makes a tremendous contribution to the new government by clearly articulating the full range of measures that need to be adopted to address the long legacy of injustice against Dalits. We sincerely hope the international community will support Nepal’s transition toward eliminating all forms of caste discrimination.?

CHRGJ’s analysis is based on extensive research and builds upon its previous work on the topic of caste discrimination-particularly its 2005 report The Missing Piece of the Puzzle: Caste Discrimination and the Conflict in Nepal.

The report and other background materials, including a summary briefing paper in both English and Nepali, are available at http://www.chrgj.org.
For more information about the IDSN, please see: http://www.idsn.org.

About the CHRGJ: The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) brings together and expands the rich array of teaching, research, clinical, internship, and publishing activities undertaken within New York University (NYU) School of Law on international human rights issues. Philip Alston is the Center?s Faculty Chair; Smita Narula and Margaret Satterthwaite are Faculty Directors; Jayne Huckerby is Research Director; Veerle Opgenhaffen is Program Director; Mattie Johnstone is Clinical Fellow; and Michelle Williams is Clinic Administrator. The CHRGJ and its International Human Rights Clinic have focused extensively on caste discrimination, and have collaborated with Dalit NGO partners throughout South Asia. The Center?s reports, statements, and briefing papers on caste discrimination are regularly cited by policymakers and inter-governmental actors.

For More Information Contact:

CHRGJ: Smita Narula, Faculty Director, +1 212 992 8824 or +1 917 209 6902 (English, Hindi, Urdu)
Jayne Huckerby, Research Director, +1 212 992 8903 or +1 212 203 6410 (English)

International Human Rights Clinic:
Neville Dastoor +1 813 380 2030 (English)
Tafadzwa Pasipanodya, +1 609 462 6409 (English, French, Portuguese, German, Spanish)

IDSN: Rikke Nöhrlind, Coordinator: + 45 29 70 06 30 (English, Danish)

Center for Human Rights and Global Justice
New York University School of Law

110 West Third Street, Suite 204
New York, NY 10012
Email: chrgj@juris.law.nyu.edu
Web: http://www.chrgj.org

 
 
 
 
 

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