Nepal’s landscape could easily give you the misconception that life is idyllic; nestled among the foothills of the Himalayas, and cited as the birthplace of Buddhism. However, it is one of the hardest places to live, despite its mystical and spiritual aura. Primarily this is because the majority of the land is unable to be cultivated, making self-sufficiency almost impossible. Due to political instability, growth within the tourist industry has been dramatically hindered and as a consequence has been declared the poorest country in Asia by Oxfam. The country is now facing a huge financial deficit due to the recent Gurkha campaign fuelled by Joanna Lumley to allow Gurkha veterans with four years’ service British residency. Gurkhas have always been regarded as upstanding pillars of the community and were selected to join the British Army’s Brigade of Gurkhas and the Indian Army’s Gorkha regiments. They are internationally renowned for their warlike aggression in battle as well as loyalty, resilience, orderliness, courage and fighting tenacity. Once they retired from fighting on Britain’s behalf, they were not rewarded with the same remunerations for their efforts as their British counterparts. The Nepalese proverb ‘a smart jackal is no match for an old tiger’ seems applicable to the fight that ensued between the British Government and the ‘Gurkha’s Princess’, Joanna Lumley. She, the wily older tiger in our proverb, single-handedly stirred British politics; by-passing the often complicated mess of institutional legislation through gaining unprecedented public support for such a small cause célèbre.
Due to the recent change is legislation, many Gurkhas are preparing to leave, resulting in somewhat of an economic black hole in Nepal’s already fragile financial system. Take Dharan, a town located to the east of Kathmandu, described as a Gurkha town with over 20% of its population being former fighters on Britain’s behalf. The influence of this influx of British money is visible across the town, from their asphalted roads, grand houses and even a number of schools and community projects all funded by previous soldiers. However, post legislation, Dharan Gurkhas find themselves stuck in a catch 22: do they remain in Nepal and help their townspeople? Or should they help their immediate family’s future generations by settling in the UK?
Nonetheless it shouldn’t be forgotten that the British legislative U-turn on the issue, as fuelled by Lumley, has at least presented these people with opportunity. Although, it is a shame that this new found opportunity will leave Nepal’s economy and the prospect of tourist development behind.
By Chloë Painter & Benjamin Allen