Accepted Paper:

Negotiating roles: the case of 'Gurkha' soldiers  
Avash Piya (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

The boundaries of military and civilian worlds are very different for a ‘Gurkha’ soldier at service and at home in the roles they perform. The social value that families and communities put on a ‘Gurkha’ soldier makes them negotiate these roles, allowing them to traverse between these worlds.

Paper long abstract:

The 'Gurkha' soldiers have long been part of the history and tradition of serving in the British Army, and to this day captures the imagination of many young boys who want to be part of this tradition. Recruitment as a 'Gurkha' soldier is the most preferred choice of employment among various ethnic groups in the hills of Nepal as families continue to send their sons for recruitment. The Gurkhas have also benefitted largely from this service, and have been able to generate wealth compared to others in their communities. But more importantly it is the prestige they garner as a soldier, and the respect they get after retirement within their communities that shapes the aspiration of many young boys to try for recruitment. However, over the years the number of intakes has decreased, and competition has been very high as thousands of young people go through various stages of screening to fill in a few places.

The case of the 'Gurkha' soldiers provides a unique look into how relations between military and civilian worlds intertwine. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Pokhara, Nepal, I explore how Gurkha soldiers engage in their communities, where they are seen as agents of change because of the skills, experiences and wealth gained from their services in the army abroad. Hence their role as a soldier is translated into a civilian back home, but more importantly they are expected to contribute to changes in the development of their community.

Panel P024
Soldier, security, society: ethnographies of civil-military entanglements