5/19/2015 3:47:12 PM
|written By : Sid Tsering Bhalla|
NEW DELHI: Even at a time of increasingly mechanised warfare, one hardy band of soldiers – the indomitable Gorkhas - have proved their weight in missiles and tanks.
Ayo Gorkhali (the Gorkhas are coming)!” With a cry that would awaken Cerebus and their wickedly curved sharp Khukris, the world’s most respected warriors have been sending shivers down enemy spines for centuries. In India, the famous Gorkha Rifles complete 200 years of soldiering on Friday 22.05.2015.
Though the Gorkhas were recruited for the first time by the East India Company, and then fought under the British flag in the Afghan conflicts as well as World War I and II, India continued with the tradition after 1947 to herald what is now the country's two century-old tryst with the indomitable warriors. Aptly enough, their motto is: "Kafar hunu bhanda marnu ramro! (It's better to die than be a coward!)".
There are roughly around 30,000 Nepalese Gorkhas currently serving in the Indian Army's seven Gorkha Rifles or regiments (Ist, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th and 11th), each of which has five to six battalions (around 800 soldiers each).
Over time, the number of Gorkhas from Nepal has dropped with the representation of "Indian domicile Gorkhas'' going steadily up. “Almost 90 per cent of our soldiers earlier used to hail from Nepal. Now, around 65 per cent come from Nepal, with the rest coming from Darjeeling, Dehradun, Dharamshala and other places," said an Indian army officer.
Although their numbers may be small in the 1.17-million strong Indian Army the doughty Gorkhas have always punched well above their weight, winning gallantry awards in diverse battlefields. The Gorkha Brigade has also produced India's first-ever Field Marshal in Sam `Bahadur' Manekshaw, as well as two other Army chiefs in Gen G G Bewoor and the present one, Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag.
The story of the Gorkha Rifles began on April 24, 1815, with the raising of the 1/1 GR and 1/3 GR. At that time, the Gorkhas from Nepal had extended their empire into Kumaon, Garhwal and Kangra Hills, leading to a confrontation with the East Indian Company (EIC).
The forces of General Amar Singh Thapa, representing the Gorkha king of Nepal Prithvi Narain Shah, were defeated at Malaun Fort, near Subathu (in the present-day Solan district of Himachal Pradesh), by Major General David Ochterlony of the EIC.
But, as a tribute to the tenacity, courage and valour of the Gorkhas, General Thapa was allowed to return to Nepal with "full colours" and military honours. "The Gorkhas accepted the British offer to join their forces. The 1/1 GR was thus raised and designated as the First Nusseree Battalion. Its regimental centre is still at Subathu," said an officer.
The 1/3 GR, in turn, was also raised on that day at Hawalbagh, near Almora, as the Kemaoon Local Battalion by Sir Robert Colquhoun. Other battalions were raised subsequently.
The British Army took half the Gorkha battalions after 1947 where they continued scripting history in the rich traditions of the Indian Army.
Many won bravery awards in both the world wars in battlefields as far away as North Africa and Europe, among them the Victoria Cross and St George’s Medal. They were at forefront of the British Army in the Falkland War in the early 1980s.
After World War 2 Gorkha soldiers also fought in the Malayan jungles and quelled insurgencies. They continue to contribute to peace-keeping in Singapore and many countries around the world.
In the aftermath of the disastrous earthquakes in Nepal on April 26 and May 13, it has been noted with deep poignancy that the country does not have enough young able-bodied men to help in relief work as many have gone overseas to work – many as Gorkha soldiers.