Gorkhas - India’s Indispensable Guardians
The Indian subcontinent, for the past 70 years, has been sitting on a ticking time bomb of armed conflict which went off on various instances and continues to lurk in the shadows. In times rife with stand-offs and skirmishes which threaten to escalate by the slightest provocation, valor and loyalty are a precious commodity to have in an Army. With various decorated regiments and brigades adorning the crown of the Indian Armed Forces, the one regiment that instils raw fear in the adversary after chanting “Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali” is the Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army. Bestowing these regiments with tags like ‘fiercely loyal’ and ‘hardened fighters’ is an understatement as they have gone above and beyond to prove their mettle in the Indian Army by waging combat from the frontlines and combatting incursions from the adversaries in nearly all the conventional wars independent India has engaged in. The arduous induction process and subsequent stringent training ensure that the soldiers of this regiment are equipped to defeat their adversaries in any form.
The Gurkha Rifles in action. Source: The Quint
The Gurkhas owe their name to the 8th century warrior saint Shri Goraknath, and some also believe that their name is derived from the hill town of “Gorkha” where lie the roots of the Nepalese kingdom. The Gurkhas are divided into 4 ethnic groups wherein the Gurungs and Magars are from Central Nepal; the Rais and Limbus are from the forested regions of the east.
The British, after fighting a war that lasted almost two years and facing rock-solid retaliation, hastily signed a peace deal which is now known as the Treaty of Sugauli at the end of the Anglo-Nepalese War in 1816 which enabled the Gurkhas to join the British Indian Army. As a first-hand witness to the valour of the Gurkhas, the General of the East India Company David Ochterlony realised their value and decided to channelize their valour into a benefit for the British thereby raising the first-ever Gurkha Regiment which came to be known as the ‘Nasiri Regiment’.
The Nasiri Regiment, 1857. Source: Asia Times
Owing to their sheer grit and bravery on the battlefield the British fielded the Gurkhas in almost every battle they fought; the Gurkhas fought in the Anglo-Sikh Wars and Anglo-Afghan Wars. They also fought in both the world wars with the combined strength amounting to almost 200,000. As part of these World Wars, the Gurkhas fought in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Cyprus and the Falklands. After the Partition of India in 1947 via an agreement between Nepal, Britain and India, four Gurkha Regiments were transferred to the British Army. The 26 Victoria crosses are a testament that the Gurkha Regiments were a decisive factor in various battles.
Former Gurkha Lance Corporal Rambahadur Limbu of the British Army, awarded the Victoria Cross in 1966. Source: Mirror
Significance in Post-Independence Era
The Gurkha regiments form roughly 32,000 soldiers, with 39 battalions in seven regiments of the Indian Army post the tripartite agreement. An additional regiment 11GR was raised to accommodate the Gurkha soldiers who refused to join the British regiments. The Gorkha Rifles have had the honour of producing three Army Chiefs of independent India; it also has the rare distinction of producing one of the only two Field Marshals of the Indian Army named Sam ‘Bahadur’ Manekshaw who was a part of the 8GR. It is also notable that the first Chief of Defence Staff of the Indian Armed Forces General Bipin Rawat who belonged to the 5th Battalion of 11 GR derives his origin from the Gurkha Rifles.
Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw of 8 Gurkha Rifles Regiment. Source: India Times
The induction process for this regiment is among the toughest in the world as it has 10,000 applicants contesting for 400 places. The selection tests include the Doko race, which requires the participants to carry a 35kg rock while running three miles uphill and is an aspect that is unheard of in most of the Armed Forces of the world.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat. Source: Indian Express
The Gurkhas exhibited sheer grit and bravery while defending Bilafond La, which is known as one of the ‘gates’ to access the Siachen Glacier in September 1987. The third battalion of the fourth Gurkha Rifle regiment ensured that the Pakistani forces were kept at bay and their repeated assaults deflected and this remarkable feat was achieved at a height of 20,000 ft. In the ensuing battle, 13 Gurkha Riflemen were killed and 23 were wounded. It was for their gallantry that the glacier remained unscathed and for their sheer valour in the battle, the unit was awarded 3 Maha Vir Chakras and 5 Vir Chakras.
The Gurkha regiment is also known for its pioneering of the amphibious operations in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Two Gurkha Battalions also played an instrumental role in combat with distinction during the Indian Peace Keeping effort in Sri Lanka. Lt. Col. Inder Bal Singh Bawa attained martyrdom along with many other troops and officers during the combat. Lt. Col. Inder Bal Singh Bawa was subsequently awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.
Lt. Col. Inder Bal Singh Bawa, Maha Vir Chakra at his house. Source: Indian Express
The Kargil war saw the Gurkha Battalions recapture various posts which were captured by the Pakistani Army and the intruders. The Gurkha Battalions recaptured Khalubar Hills which was a strategic point to the Indian Armed Forces. Bravehearts like Lt. Manoj Kumar Pandey were killed in action while capturing the Juhar Top, Battlik sector in Kargil. It is claimed by various experts to be the turning point in the War. The Lieutenant was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his sacrifice for the nation.
The three Param Vir Chakras awarded to the Gorkha Brigade are a testament of their loyalty towards the nation and bravery in the face of adversaries in the most inhospitable conditions. It is not only the practice of carrying an 18-inch curved knife ‘khukri’ and the tradition of tasting blood before it is sheathed again that makes the adversaries’ stomach turn, but also the raw fearlessness and the sheer will of fighting till the last round is fired. As India’s most decorated Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw had once famously said that “If anyone tells you he is never afraid, he is a liar or he is a Gurkha.”
‘Who are the Gurkhas’ - https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-10782099
Know the Gurkha Regiment, pillar of India’s security for decades- https://www.jatinverma.org/know-the-gurkha-regiment-pillar-of-indias-security-for-decades
Gorkha Rifles- Indian Army’s daredevil Infantry Regiment- https://news.abplive.com/news/india/know-about-gorkha-rifles-one-of-indian-armys-high-acclaimed-and-decorated-infantry-regiments-1257739
Gorkha Rifles turn 200: All you need to know about one of world's fiercest soldiers- https://www.oneindia.com/feature/gorkha-rifles-turn-200-you-need-know-about-world-s-fiercest-fighters-1722890.html
Gurkha Regiments, Military bonding beyond borders- http://www.indiandefensenews.in/2020/05/gurkha-regiments-military-bonding.html
Kargil War: How Gorkha Regiment led by Lt. Manoj Kumar Pandey captured Khalubar Hills- https://zeenews.india.com/india/kargil-war-how-gorkha-regiment-led-by-lieutenant-manoj-pandey-reclaimed-khalubar-hills-2220712.html#:~:text=The%20Gorkha%20Regiment%20of%20the%20Indian%20Army%20was%20entrusted%20with,the%20mission%20on%20July%203.
Unfailing spirit of the indispensable Gorkhas- https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-third-gorkha-rifles-history/article7137658.ece