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Gorkha soldiers unite to build memorial honoring fallen heroes

Gorkha soldiers unite to build memorial honoring fallen heroes
Chandra Bahadur Gurung, a 68-year-old resident of Phedikhola in Syangja, served in the Gurkha Regiment of the British Army and has vivid memories of his time deployed in different countries. He reflects on the many Nepali youths who were deployed overseas and performed exceptionally well. However, despite their bravery, Gurung explains that the British government always received recognition for their accomplishments, while the soldiers themselves were not identified as individual warriors. This left a bitter feeling, which Gurung experienced for the first time while deployed in a war in Afghanistan where eleven Gorkha soldiers lost their lives. In honor of their performance, the regiment erected a memorial with inscriptions of the name of the departed soldiers. Many ex-Gorkha soldiers in the area share similar feelings. They say that the most bitter feeling for them is that nobody recognizes their Nepali origin. They realized the importance of nationality while fighting in political wars. But they say it hurts them when no one talks about their nationality despite showing bravery and winning wars. They recall many incidents of their treatment as subjects sold by one nation to another. These feelings are not unique to just one individual, but rather a shared sentiment among many ex-Gorkha soldiers in the area. According to Gorkha Army Ex-Serviceman Organization (GAESO), over 150,000 Nepalis, who were given the name 'Gorkhas', have died in wars across the world since the Sugauli Treaty. Of these, approximately 43,000 Gorkhas lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. In order to formally honor their valor, retired soldiers have come together to establish a memorial at Salme Dada in Phedikhola Rural Municipality in Syangja.

Ex-Gorkha soldiers also recall that their salaries were not equal to that of British soldiers, despite having the same tasks and responsibilities. Moreover, they were not allowed to call their families in Nepal while they were serving in different countries. Their facilities were comparable to those provided to Indian nationals during the colonial era for many decades. This disparity in treatment left many ex-Gorkha soldiers feeling undervalued and underappreciated, despite their unwavering commitment to serving the British flag.

The problem of self-respect and discrimination regarding remuneration was finally addressed in 2008. The ex-servicemen in the Gorkha Regiment formed an organization named GAESO to fight for the issues of identity and equality. After almost one and a half decades of raising their voices for equality, their demands were finally addressed by the British government. However, they are worried that the Nepali government has never shown concern for them. They feel that Nepal has ignored ex-servicemen ever since the British started recruiting Nepal nationals for the British East India Company soon after the Sugauli Treaty in 1815. Many of the retired soldiers recall their days in the British Army. They say many soldiers who died in battle could not receive proper funeral from their family members because they did not receive information about their relatives’ death. This was due to the lack of proper diplomatic correspondence between the two countries. Also, the name of all individual Gorkhas would be changed in the regiment, which was another major reason why the correct information could not reach their homes. Dr Chandra Bahadur Gurung, founding general secretary of GAESO, said rituals will be organized at the memorial in Salme Dada to give due respect to all those souls who did not receive proper funerals. The memorial is being built to honor the departed souls of the Gorkha Army who sacrificed their lives for the British regiment in various wars. The monument will have the names of all the departed soldiers inscribed on its walls. The construction of the monument started in 2012 with the help of Nepal government with the purchase of 53 ropani land from the locals. During the foundation-laying ceremony, 21 maidens were worshiped with rituals from different traditions and cultures to pacify the departed souls. "This same ritual will be repeated every year in the name of the departed soldiers," Dr Gurung said. "We always pay tribute to Gorkha soldiers, who introduced the bravery of Nepali people to the world through their courageous performance," explained Puran Dhoj Gurung, one of the initiators of the memorial. According to Padam Bahadur Gurung, former chairperson of GAESO and founder chairperson of the Salme Dande Gorkha Memorial Construction Committee, the purpose of creating the memorial is to honor the departed souls of Gorkha soldiers and recognize their bravery by organizing different rituals in order to pacify their souls. The initiators of the project said they require approximately Rs 1.5bn to complete all the work at Salme Dada. To achieve this goal, they have already raised Rs 200m from the families of existing and ex-servicemen of the Gorkha regiment. They are also planning to seek financial aid from different countries, including the British Army if the government of Nepal continues to overlook their interests and efforts. "We are in constant contact with the local government for the allocation of resources," added Dr Gurung.