Gurkhas toast of war rooms and bars

City talk | Susan Liang 14 May 2021

I was truly amazed to find out after reading a book called Ayo Gorkhali: The True Story of the Gurkhas, by Tim I Gurung, that even today there exists a so-called friendship treaty of 1923 between Britain and Nepal.

That harked back to the Treaty of Sugauli in 1815 between the East India Company and Nepal, which was signed after Nepal lost a war and had to cede a lot of territory, similar to how Hong Kong was ceded after the Opium War.

Most interesting of all was the Tripartite Agreement of 1947 after the partition of India to retain Gurkha services signed by the United Kingdom, India and Nepal.

This treaty is significant in that the British were able to use Gurkhas to fight in their wars, led by British officers of course.

In fact, Nepal was such a poor country that the men had no choice but to fight for the British, especially after their rajah had to cede territory under the 1815 treaty.

This began a 200-year legacy that saw Gurkhas fight for the British in the two world wars, Burma against the Japanese, Malaysia against the communist insurgency and the Falkands War.

Due to their unparalleled bravery, tenacity, loyalty and adaptability, they won a total of 10 Victoria Crosses in WWII alone.

During the Cultural Revolution in China, which crippled the whole nation, many people from the mainland tried to enter Hong Kong through desperate means.

The Gurkha engineers helped build barbed-wire fences all along the border, and the British used Gurkhas to protect the border from illegal migrants and subsequently against illegal boat people from Vietnam.

Some Gurkhas were promoted, becoming officers but they complained that they were not treated as equals to the British officers.

Today, some of them are fighting for their rights to an equal pension and the right of abode in the UK.

The Gurkha veterans have set up various organizations to conduct talks with the UK but agreement has yet to be reached and they are disappointed with the Nepalese government, which is also included in the negotiations.

When Hong Kong become a special administrative region on July 1, 1997, the future of the Gurkhas became uncertain.

By early 1990, the first phase of redundancy started and five battalions became two as many were moved to the UK.

But a small and vibrant Gurkha community remained behind and some even came back to Hong Kong as civilians and found work as security guards and in construction.

Now there are about 50,000 of them living and working in Hong Kong.

The men work mainly in the construction industry and the women in food and beverage, but the new generation prefers to work in IT, entertainment or insurance as professionals. Some are journalists or writers.

I find them to be very disciplined, polite and hard working.

Their main obstacle is language, and in this area they need a leg up from the government.

For now, they monopolize the operation of almost all Hong Kong bars and some even work for the triads.

Luckily, they do not carry their kukris with them to work.

Susan Liang is a lawyer who likes to speak her mind on issues that concern the man on the street

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June 2021

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