Military fraternity, migrant alterity: A transnational history of Gurkha families in Asia (1947-1971)

Military fraternity, migrant alterity: A transnational history of Gurkha families in Asia (1947-1971)
The predominant historical perspective about Gurkha society centres on the romanticised representation of Gurkha men as ‘martial race’ warriors. The central focus of this dissertation, in contrast, is on the transnational lives of ‘British Gurkha’ families in Asia during the end of empire (1947-1971) and it seeks to reimagine their history through the theoretical framework of migrant mobilities. In appraising Gurkhas as ‘military migrants’ rather than as ‘military soldiers’, this study broadens the scope of enquiry to include and understand the experiences of women and children across generations. It aims to historicise the role of foreign military service in shaping the transnational lives of Gurkha families and appraise how this, in turn, intersected with, and produced tensions and ambiguities around questions of race, identity, citizenship and belonging. I consider why, how and in what ways the lived experiences of Gurkha families were shaped by a complex interplay between military membership and migrant otherness. By drawing extensively on multi-sited archival research and ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Nepal, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore, this dissertation seeks to reconstruct the lived experiences of a lesser-known minority community and in so doing, develop an understanding of military labour migration within Asia as shaped by a broader political context of decolonisation and Cold War realities.


Hema Kiruppalini

Defended in

1 Jan 2022 – 30 Nov 2022

PhD defended at

Department of History, National University of Singapore




Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
East Asia
South Asia
Southeast Asia


Gender and Identity
Diasporas and Migration
War / Peace