‘Invisible Counterparts’ of the ‘Warrior Gentlemen’: Tracing out the Mobilities of ‘Gurkha Women’
The paper portrays how the literature regarding military migration is highly gendered and so is postwar transnational mobility and citizenship where the voices of women from migrant-soldier families are lost amidst the men’s stories of wartime bravery. By building on the experiences of “silent partners,” the paper works towards theorizing the agency of women from postcolonial societies (in this case, from Nepal) during emigration and links it with a larger literature on transnational migration. For this, mobility paradigm of the female member from a Gurkha family after the soldier-migrant decides to work, live, and obtain citizenship in the country he fought for is examined. The paper is based on extensive review of literature and archival research about the Gurkhas and their families. From the vast amount of literature about Gurkha soldiers, this study traces out the Gurkha women.
On the one hand, the whole idea of family- and marriage-migration is guided by the notion of “male breadwinner” where women have very little say over the type of mobility and choice of destination. Most of the wartime and postwar mobility is concentrated around the movement of soldiers, while it seldom goes into the sociological aspect of family, gender and cultural dynamics. Here, the paper builds on the narrative of “waiting” by Gurkha women. Crucial here are the narratives of Gurkha wives while their husbands were at war and the wives had long uncertain waits and they had to “prove their allegiance” towards their husbands, when the husbands decided to migrate to a different country looking for better opportunities for themselves and their families, and whenever they “followed” their “brave” husbands merely as “invisible counterparts.” On the other hand, the paper attempts to debunk the popular understanding that women are “left behind” in the migrant household when men migrate or are mere passive followers of their highly mobile male counterparts. Based on the existing literature and archival research, the paper suggests that Gurkha women were highly mobile when international migration (and not internal and cross-border migration) was largely unheard of in the Nepali society. The paper cites various instances of women being involved in the British regiments in Southeast Asia and the UK where they contributed in educational and medical institutions (for example: Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps and St. Thomas Hospital). Also, Gurkha women were involved in recreations and community support activities as early as in 1960s through agencies like Women’s Royal Volunteer Service (WRVS). However, they just remained invisible in the literature under the shadows of their warrior husbands and away from the colonial gazes of western authors.