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Gorkha Rifles Regiments

As of 1991, there were more than 100,000 Gurkhas (or, in Nepali, Gorkha) serving in over forty Indian infantry battalions and elsewhere in the Indian Army. Their pay and pensions, though not as generous as British benefits, also represented a significant contribution to the Nepalese economy. Almost all of the Indian Gurkhas served in ethnically distinct regiments commanded by non-Gurkha officers.

In addition, about twenty-five battalions of Assam Rifles, a specialized paramilitary force descended from the old British unit of the same name, were staffed almost exclusively by Gurkha recruits.

With so many families in the hills of Garhwal and Kumaon who have sons (and daughters) in the military, the conflict in Kashmir has taken a heavy toll. The Garhwal Rifles, as well as other Himalayan regiments (the Gurkha Rifles, Ladakh Scouts, Naga Regiments, and Jammu and Kashmir Infantry) were all entrusted with operations in Kargil in 1999. They joined their Sikh, Rajasthani, Mahar, and Bihari brothers as a multicultural and multifaith force on the frontlines, suffering the brunt of casualities in defense of the state.

Gurkhas played no appreciable role in Indian services other than the army and paramilitary forces. As during the British Raj, successive Indian governments called upon Gurkha regiments on numerous occasions to put down domestic disturbances that were beyond the control of local police. Ethnically homogeneous Gurkha units often were considered more reliable than mixed units that might be tempted to side with ethnic kin embroiled in a dispute.

The term Gurkha usually referred to soldiers of Nepalese origin who, over many generations, served in the legendary British Brigade of Gurkhas. Other regiments designated as Gurkha still served in the Indian Army as of 1991. As it has for more than 175 years, Nepal in the early 1990s served as a source of recruits for Indian and British Gurkha regiments. Retired British Gurkhas also served in specially raised security units in Singapore and Brunei.

Soldiers who served in the Royal Nepal Army usually were not called Gurkhas, although they also claimed to be the rightful heirs of many of the same martial traditions as their countrymen recruited to serve in foreign armies. The designation had no distinct ethnic connotation but derived from the name of the old kingdom of Gorkha (Gurkha), the territory that roughly encompassed the present-day district of Gorkha, in the mountains some fifty-six kilometers west of Kathmandu.

Legend had it that Gurkhas never drew their service-issued kukri (curved Nepalese knives) without drawing blood, even if it were their own. Although probably a tradition of a bygone era, the legend added immeasurably to the Gurkhas' reputation for toughness. The exploits and legends surrounding the Gurkhas are among the more memorable of modern military history.

Robert Clive's decisive victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 firmly established British supremecy in India thereby opening the door for expansion of the Honourable East India Company. Some 10 years after Plassey the British started to come into contact with a unique and vigorous power on the northern borders of its newly won territories in Bengal and Bihar. This power was the city-state of Gorkha led by its dynamic King Prithwi Narayan Shah. Gorkha was a feudal hill village in what is now western Nepal, the village from which the Gurkha takes its name. Prithwi Narayan Shah and his successors grew so powerful that they overran the whole of the hill country from the Kashmir border in the west to Bhutan in the east.

Soldiers from the kingdom of Gorkha established an international reputation for their martial qualities during the eighteenth century by their successful invasions of Tibet. As the Gorkha kingdom expanded eastward across the Himalayas to Sikkim, the king's warriors, taken from all groups in the area, came to be known as Gurkha soldiers. Eventually, as a result of boundary disputes and repeated raids by Gurkha columns into British territory, the Governor General declared war on Nepal in 1814. After two long and bloody campaigns a Peace Treaty was signed at Sagauli in 1816.

During the war a deep feeling of mutual respect and admiration had developed between the British and their adversaries, the British being much impressed by the fighting and other qualities of the Gurkha soldier. Under the terms of the Peace Treaty large numbers of Gurkhas were permitted to volunteer for service in the East India Company's Army. From these volunteers were formed the first regiments of the Gurkha Brigade.

The Gurkha reputation for martial prowess and obedience to authority was firmly established during the 1857-58 Sepoy Rebellion, which seriously threatened British ascendancy in South Asia. Some 9,000 Nepalese troops under Prime Minister Jang Bahadur Rana, in power from 1846-77, rendered valuable service to the British. Nepalese exploits in relieving the British resident in Lucknow made a lasting impression on British officials and strategists. Nepalese troops were awarded battle honors, and two additional regiments were raised.

Recruiting continued, and the adaptability of the Gurkha troops to various types and conditions of combat was demonstrated by their performance in the Second Afghan War (1878-80) and in the Boxer Uprising (1900). By 1908 the fabled Gurkha brigade had been formed. A flexible unit, the brigade numbered about 12,000 troops in peacetime and was organized in ten regiments, each consisting of two rifle battalions. Other Gurkha units included the Assam Rifles, Burma Rifles, Indian Armed Police, and Burma Military Police. Regiments and battalions were designated numerically. For example, the Second Battalion of the Seventh Gurkha Rifles was commonly referred to with pride by its members as the 2/7/GR.

In 1919 at the height of a civil disobedience campaign called by the Indian National Congress, Gurkha troops serving under British brigadier R.E.H. Dyer brutally suppressed a pro- independence political gathering in a walled courtyard outside the Sikh holy temple in Amritsar. Acting under Dyer's orders, the Gurkhas killed some 300 persons and wounded approximately 1,200 others. The episode generally was considered a watershed in the Indian independence movement. The Indian public, however, held Dyer and the British government responsible for the massacre and did not blame the soldiers who carried out the order to fire on unarmed civilians.

Under a tripartite agreement signed in 1947 by Nepal, India, and Britain, the Gurkha brigade was divided between British and Indian forces. Four regiments remained in the British service, and six passed to the new Indian Army, which recruited an additional regiment for a total of seven.

Gurkhas in the service of India have also played an important and colorful role in national defense, despite the early complaints of Indian nationalists that Nepalese soldiers were acting as British mercenaries or tools of the Ranas. However critical the Indian Congress party may have been about the use of the Gurkhas by the British, their value was quickly recognized. The Rana regime sought to counter Indian criticism by specifying that Gurkhas in the Indian Army could not be used against Nepal, other Gurkha units, Hindus, or "unarmed mobs." No restrictions were imposed, however, on their use against Muslim mobs or against external enemies, including Pakistan and China.

Gurkhas, some of whom came from Nepalese families resident in the Indian Tarai, served with distinction in India's three wars with Pakistan (1947-48, 1965, and 1971). Many Indian Gurkhas also were stationed in the former North-East Frontier Agency (Arunachal Pradesh) when Chinese forces overran beleaguered Indian outposts along the disputed Sino-Indian frontier in 1962. A battalion served with distinction in the Congo (now Zaire) in the 1960s as part of the Indian Army contingent in the United Nations Operations in the Congo. Several battalions served with the Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990.

Despite Nepalese sensitivities over domestic and foreign criticism of allowing foreign armies to recruit "mercenaries" in Nepal, various Gurkha units continued to serve outside Nepal in the early 1990s. British recruiters attracted the best candidates for military service because of improved prospects for advancement and higher pay. Those unable to land positions in the Brigade of Gurkhas usually opted to serve in the Indian Army, leaving the Royal Nepal Army with the remaining large pool of recruits from which to choose.

From Kathmandu's perspective, the military and economic advantages accruing from foreign recruitment of Gurkhas far outweighed occasional criticism. Militarily, the presence of over 100,000 trained and disciplined Gurkha veterans was a valuable human resource. Service abroad widened their horizons, and military training and discipline taught them not only how to obey, but also how to give orders. Many Gurkhas gained specialized skills in communications and engineering units, and most have had some training in such practical subjects as sanitation, hygiene, agriculture, and the building trades. The Gurkhas also played an important role in the country's economy. The cash flow derived from annual pensions, remittances to families, or monies taken home in a lump sum by discharged veterans or by service personnel on leave represented a major source of the country's foreign exchange. Remittances and pensions contributed by British Gurkhas were estimated in 1991 to total over US$60 million annually, or over twice the value of Britain's annual foreign aid commitment to Nepal. Pensions from Indian Gurkhas also represented a major revenue source. Gurkhas returning from duty in Hong Kong also were able legally to import a few kilograms of gold bullion duty free.

In some Gurung villages, about half of the families had one or more pensioners. For many families, hope of financial solvency rested on their sons returning home with a substantial sum saved during a three-year enlistment. Such income also directly benefited the economy, as money circulated in the purchase of consumer goods, the payment of debts, the purchase of land, or investment in small commercial ventures.

1/3 Gorkha Rifles

The 1/3 Gorkha Rifles was raised on April 24, 1815 near Almora as Kumaon Battalion by Lt Sir Robert Colquhuon. After raising, the battalion took part in the Bhutan War, the second Afghan War and the third Burmese War. The battalion performed in an exemplary way under the leadership of its commanding officer, Lt Col HH Lyster during the second Afghan War. It proved its mettle in the "Battle of Ahmed Khel" on April 19, 1880 during this war. Since then, April 19 is celebrated as the battalion's Battle Honour Day.

Over the years, the battalion's name underwent a number of changes like Kumaon Local battalion, 37th Bengal Native Infantry and 3rd Gorkha Rifles. In 1907, King Edward of England approved the title of the 3rd Queen's Own Gorkha Rifles, but on the personal intervention of the Queen, the designation was changed to 3rd Queen Alexendra's own Gorkha Rifles. After Independence, the battalion has been rechristened as First Battalion of the 3 Gorkha Rifles.

On November 29, 1947, the first Indian Commanding Officer, Lt Col (later Lieutenant General) PO Dunn, took over the command of the battalion from Lt Col HV Rose at Fort William, Calcutta. The battalion served at various places in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland between 1945 and 1965.

In Nagaland in 1956, Commanding Officer, Lt Col JR Chitnis was awarded Ashok Chakra posthumously for putting up a brave fight against insurgent activities. The battalion also took an active part in 1965 and 1971 wars. It also formed part of UN peacekeeping operations and did a commendable job in restoring normalcy in Rwanda.

As part of operation Rakshak, the battalion was deployed in the Kashmir Valley where it won a number of gallantry awards for its prowess. The battalion was deployed in Northern Sector in October 2000. Then the battalion moved to peace location.

After taking an active role in relief and rescue operations following an earthquake in Gujarat, the battalion once again got ready to perform its role during operation Parakram. The battalion was deployed in operation area where it successfully performed mine laying as well as recovery operations. At present, the battalion is deployed in Eastern Sector.

The battalion celebrated its 125th Battle Honour Day. On the occasion, gala celebrations were held at Helipad, Gangtok. Maj Gen Avadesh Prakash, GOC, 17 Mountain Division released a Special Cover in the presence of a large number of officers, JCOs and men. Speaking on the occasion, the General Officer paid rich tributes to the battalion soldiers for their indomitable courage and gallant action.

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Page last modified: 12-04-2017 13:21:30 ZULU