Overseas caste among military migrants: the migration and settlement of Nepalese Gurkhas in Britain
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 09:27 by Mitra Pariyar
This study is based on ethnographic field research involving participant observation and semi-structured interviews, conducted in England between 2012 and 2013. I am not a soldier, but I was born and brought up in a Gurkha village and town of western Nepal. I have known many Gurkhas and their families for a long time, both in Nepal and England. As a student, I lived in a Gurkha community in East Oxford in 2008 – 2012. I was in England, closely observing actress Joanna Lumley’s popular campaign for Gurkha settlement rights – which she won in the spring of 2009. The British have traditionally recruited Nepalese men from specific castes/ethnic groups from particular locations. Thus, majority Gurkha immigrants belong to the four middle castes of Nepal: the Gurung, Magar, Rai and Limbu. So, the mass migration of Gurkhas dramatically changed the composition of castes within the Nepalese community in the UK. Until recently, the latter was dominated by, as elsewhere, Nepal’s elite groups, i.e., high-caste Bahuns and Chhetris. Now they suddenly found themselves in the minority in the UK. Furthermore, over the years, Gurkha caste associations have risen up rapidly, both in their numbers and sizes. In this rare diasporic vantage, the Gurkhas became not only preponderant, but increasingly assertive. I will demonstrate that, as Gurkhas attempted to mobilize themselves against the traditional authority of high castes, the diasporic community became increasingly polarized along the caste line. I argue that this fast-paced reinstitution of caste among Gurkha immigrants must be understood in the contexts of: 1) The transnational influence of Nepal’s ethnic politics, spearheaded by many middle castes and/or ethnic groups in Nepal, which has sought to challenge the traditional authority of high castes; and, 2) Post/colonial policies on the recruitment and organization of the British Gurkha Army, wherein caste has been a central principle. In other words, I show that in part Britain itself is responsible for strengthening Nepalese caste on its soil. My thesis thus presents new lenses for understanding diasporic caste: British colonial history and transnationalism. Much of the past research on overseas caste, which were mainly centred on indentured communities in former British planation colonies like the Caribbean, Fiji and Mauritius, have claimed that caste lost its force. These historiographical analyses blame colonial policies of recruiting and organizing coolies on the estates, wherein caste seemed to have little significance. There are some studies of caste among Indians and Pakistanis in Western countries, who emigrated after the World War II. These scholars demonstrate some significance of caste overseas, but they do not pay attention to the postcolonial impacts. Nor do they delve into transnational connections, which may have either directly or indirectly contributed to the revival of caste in the diaspora. Lastly, this study informs policy. Over the years, Britain’s political class has been divided on proposed caste legislation. The UK is grappling with the first issue of this kind in the Western world. In an unprecedented move, low-caste Indians spearheaded a campaign to outlaw caste discrimination, which they claim is essential to protect them from alleged bigotry and intolerance in the hands of high-caste Indians. The latter, however, have vehemently opposed this demand, claiming that caste has never been a problem in the diasporic community. The debate has also divided a few scholars that dared to delve into this sensitive topic. I suggest here that the debate needs to be widened. Here I demonstrate the saliency of employing particularly the concepts of transnationalism and colonial history in order to get a better understanding of diasporic caste.
Table of ContentsIntroduction -- Chapter One. Caste in the Gurkha regiment : a colonial historiography -- Chapter Two. Unbroken chains: Gurkha migration and caste -- Chapter Three. Performed caste identities : diasporic public sphere -- Chapter Four. Caste as anti-caste : contesting high caste authority -- Chapter Five. Perpetual suffering : British Nepalese ‘Untouchables' -- Chapter Six. Caste in an unlikely country : contexts of the host society -- Conclusion -- Bibliography.
NotesBibliography: pages 318-376 Theoretical thesis.
Awarding InstitutionMacquarie University
Degree TypeThesis PhD
DegreePhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Sociology
Department, Centre or SchoolDepartment of Sociology
Year of Award2016
Principal SupervisorAmanda Wise
Additional Supervisor 1Selvaraj Velayutham
RightsCopyright Mitra Pariyar 2016. Copyright disclaimer: http://mq.edu.au/library/copyright
Extent1 online resource (376 pages) colour illustrations
Former Identifiersmq:69159 http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/1251239
overseas casteCaste -- NepalImmigrants -- Cultural assimilation -- Great BritainOverseas caste remains under-researched. Many scholars including Max Weber and Luis Dumont have identified the caste system as a fundamental part of life among Hindus, Sikhs and others within South Asia. Now millions of the same people live abroad. Despite this, however, there is little knowledge of caste among South Asian migrants and their descendants, particularly in the West. The purpose of this thesis is to explore how and why Nepalese Gurkha immigrants – retired soldiers who migrated to Britain en masse following the change of Gurkha immigration policies in 2004 and 2009 – have actively reproduced caste from the outset.Gurkha soldiers -- Great BritainNepalese diasporaImmigrants -- Great BritainNepalese -- Great BritainNepaleseBritainDalit diasporamilitary migrantsGurkha migrationethnic minoritiesImmigrantsCasteGurkha soldiers