ABSTRACT

The Nepali diaspora in South-East Asia was an outcome of the imperatives of British colonialism and was facilitated by the geopolitical and economic compulsions of the monarchical state of Nepal. From the 19th century onwards, the Gurkhas as military soldiers were the vanguards of British expansion in and outside India. As part of the British colonial force, they participated in the First (1824-26), Second (1852-1853) and Third AngloBurmese (1885-1886) wars leading to the annexation of Burma (Myanmar), and subsequently, they were recruited from eastern Nepal 1 to serve in the military police battalions in Burma. As a consequence, there were Gurkha settlements in Myitkyina and other headquarters of the Burma Military Police (BMP) in which Gurkha officers and men were encouraged to settle down with their families on being discharged from active service. 2 The British occupation of Burma, which formally became a province of British India in February 1887 and the opportunity for military service, the exploitation of its resources for commercial purposes such as plantation, mining and construction of railways created favourable conditions for the migration of people from British India, including Nepal, to Burma. The census of 1931 enumerated 1,017,825 Indians in Burma; of these, 617,521 had been born in India. 3 It was reported in 1942 that there were some 200,000 Gurkhas domiciled in Burma. 4

In the early part of 1942, there were reports of Gurkhas fleeing from Burma in the wake of the Japanese invasion during World War II. Hundreds of refugees, consisting mainly of women and children and dependents of Gurkha soldiers belonging to the Burma Frontier Force (BFF), Burma Military Police (BMP) and Burma Army (BA) besides Gurkha

civilians, arrived at various Gurkha recruiting depots on the Indo-Nepal border in a destitute condition. The British authorities were particularly concerned about the condition of the destitute population and the impact stories of their hardships would have on new Gurkha recruitment in general, vital for the Allied war effort. The Maharaja of Nepal, on the contrary, wanted to prohibit the entry of Gurkhas who were of mixed parentage and who were Burmese born and bred. The question of the rehabilitation of the displaced Gurkhas from Burma, hence, became a subject of common ‘concern’ for the governments of India, Nepal and Burma. It was decided to establish such a rehabilitation camp at Motihari, located in the Champaran District of North Bihar. This chapter is a brief historical narrative of this event gleaned from the archival records and secondary sources available in the form of published books and articles relating to the issue of Gurkha displacement and rehabilitation in 1942. 5 Through this chapter, the author seeks to provide some historical narratives to fill in and contribute to the larger narrative of the Nepali diaspora.