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The Martial race theory and the Gurkhas

The idea that certain ‘groups’ are better at fighting than the others has been concurrent
throughout history. Whether that’s during the era of Ancient Greece or the Roman Empire.
Following that, the idea that certain ‘clans, castes, tribes or races’ being inherently more
warlike and predisposed to the qualities of soldering were present prior to that of the ‘British
Raj’; although they might not have been defined as such. Yet, it was during the era of
colonialism and empires that such theories caught the attention of military and civilian
scholars alike. Specifically, the late 19 th century during the British Raj of India, the ‘Martial
Race theory’ became more prevalent and influenced the recruitment strategy of the British
Indian Army.

It is certain that the theory led to the exponential rise in representation of certain races within
the British Indian Army and the Gurkhas are one of them. Although not being from India, the
Gurkhas were actively recruited by the British since the Sugauli Treaty of 1816.

Gurkhas along with certain other ethnic groups/races were identified as having a natural
predisposition to soldering and hardship. In the case of the Gurkhas, it was the harsh
Himalayan conditions, they had to form a warlike nature. Such harsh conditions and difficult
terrain led to a mentally and physically more robust individual, compared to the non-martial
races and city dwellers of India. Gurung and Magars were predominantly seen as the prime
examples of the race with the Rais and Limbus quickly following the suit. Undoubtedly, there
were other sub-groups, clans or tribes that were good material for soldiering, such as
Sunuwars, yet the above mentioned were favoured more so than others.

The martial race theory has in many ways, helped the Gurkhas since its birth. It saw the
exponential growth of the Gurkha regiments through the Raj, during the two World Wars and
continues to provide employment today; to a brigade of Gurkhas in the British army,
numerous regiments in the Indian army or a Gurkha continent in the Singapore police force.
After the retirement from the service, many utilise that valuable military skills and experience
by being employed in Private Military Security Companies (PMSCs).

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