Accepted Paper:

The creation of a military diaspora: the Gurkhas in the UK  
Jens Seeberg (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how Human Rights-based court cases and a public campaign fighting for the rights of Nepalese soldiers (Gurkhas) in the British army has redrawn the civilian citiscapes of Southern London and Western Nepal.

Paper long abstract:

For almost 200 years, the United Kingdom has recruited Nepalese soldiers, known as 'Gurkhas' for the British army. While a remarkably consistent colonial and postcolonial discourse has embedded this practice in a discourse about their exceptional bravery and loyalty, this practice provided UK with reliable, flexible and cheap soldiers, receiving poorer pay than their British and Commonwealth Nations colleagues. At the end of service, Gurkhas had to return to Nepal. Articulating a specific case of 'friction', Gurkha organizations has fought against the British army on the basis of a human rights argument claiming that this unequal treatment was a case of racial discrimination. Following court cases and the "Gurkha Justice Campaign" in the 2000s, the British government in two steps was forced to grant the right to permanent resettlement in the UK for ex-Gurkhas and their dependents after four years of service, irrespective of the time of retirement.

On the basis of multi-sited ethnography in Nepal and the UK among ex-Gurkhas among the Gurung population, this paper presents the changing cityscapes in Pokhara city, Nepal, and in Aldershot, a Southern London suburb popularly known as 'Little Nepal'. Following the policy change regarding resettlement, ex-Gurkhas who have been involved in WWII and British colonial and post-colonial wars throughout the 20th century are now reshaping social life in Southern London, while their absence in Pokhara is perceived as contributing to a 'cultural crisis' among the Gurung.

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