The Talk of Nepal: The Future of Its Gurkhas
By Anuj Chopra
KATHMANDU, NEPAL --The kukri strapped to Mekhman Tamang's hip belt is more than an ordinary family heirloom. When his father bequeathed the traditional knife to him 10 years ago, Tamang, a third-generation Gurkha soldier, also inherited the stout-hearted reputation tethered to thousands of Nepalese men who fought for foreign countries before him. Recruited by the British army in 1999, the 30-year-old soldier has braved hails of Taliban bullets during two recent stints in Afghanistan. But he is uncertain whether he will be able to pass down his kukri — or the Gurkha legacy — to his son.
For nearly two centuries, hundreds of thousands of Gurkhas have been plucked from the foothills of the Himalayas to serve primarily in the British and Indian armies. They have often been given dangerous frontline duties in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, the Falklands, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The British army has awarded more than a dozen Victoria Crosses to Nepalese soldiers over the years, but despite the job's prestige at home, Gurkhas have long complained of being treated differently from native soldiers. For decades, Gurkhas have struggled with the British government for parity of pay, pensions, and perks, and more recently, with British immigration officials over their right to settle in the U.K.