The Gurkha Wives of United Kingdom: Challenges to Social Integration
Integration of immigrants has been a pertinent issue both theoretically and at the policy level in major migrant receiving states. In the case of the United Kingdom (UK), this has been reflected in the rise of extreme right-wing parties and increasing public resistance, who see immigration as a threat to national solidarity as the immigrants are seen as refusing to ‘integrate’ into mainstream society. The Nepali community residing in the UK, majority of which constitutes of families of Nepali men who served or are still serving in the Gurkha Regiment of the British Army, has been no exception to this resistance.
However, scant attention has been given to the examination of integration process of this group. Furthermore, like the majority of the migration literature, the gender dimension, i.e. the process by which the wives of the British Gurkha servicemen become part of British society, has only been cursorily treated in the handful of studies that have been conducted. This paper aims to address this gender-gap in the existing social integration literature. Recognizing that human experience is gendered, this paper takes a feminist approach to analyse the wives’ perspectives of their migration and settlement experiences. The paper is based on an empirical study conducted in the town of Aldershot in New Hampshire, UK, considered to be the home of the British Army. Over the years, Aldershot has been labelled as “Little Nepal” owing to the large inflow of Nepalis following the granting of settlement rights in 2009. The study utilises in-depth interviewing to explore the extent to which this group of first-generation dependents have integrated in the British society and to identify the challenges that they have been facing in the process. As feminist methodology gives primacy to personal narratives as the primary source of information, personal narratives of women belonging to three overlapping groups – pensioners, middle-aged females, and recent migrants- was collected.
The findings from the small-scale study indicate that the age-group or the generation one belongs is a crucial factor in shaping these women’s migration experiences. While language emerges as the major barrier, active labour market participation demonstrates a great degree of integration. The conclusion is, then, divided into two parts: firstly, the diversity of experience within a single group demonstrates that heterogeneity of migrant experiences needs to be taken into account, especially for the enforcement of effective integration-related policies and programs. This leads to the second conclusion which suggests that there needs to be a shift away from traditional conception of social integration as rigid, linear process of immigrants adopting commonly held host society values, towards seeing it as process of constant renegotiation.