Our Gurkhas by Zakaria Zainal

Over the past year, I’ve been learning more and more about the South Asian diaspora* in this part of the world. Much of my research and writing in this field has thus far has concentrated on the American experience because I’m an American of South Asian descent and have a keen interest in my own history. But, I’ve found that Southeast Asia is such a rich landscape in which to continue and expand my personal and professional interests. I am particularly interested in the ways religion, trade, and colonialism, and now, capitalism plays a role in the migration of human beings.

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My current “education” has been somewhat unsystematic. I stumble upon books at the National Library or pass a random monument while wandering ’round town or clip interesting pieces out of the paper.

Earlier this month, The Straits Times published a special report, “Singapore Gurkhas in Perspective,” which told the stories not of an estimated 2,000 Gurkhas currently serving in Singapore’s Police Force, but of those retired and repatriated to Nepal. Accompanying the article were beautiful photographs by Zakaria Zainal. He traveled to Nepal and interviewed and photographed fifty retired Gurkhas, many of whom still know each another by their police identity numbers.

“‘Our Gurkhas‘ is a continuation of my final year project at university, ‘The Invisible Force‘,” Zakaria told me. “[I wanted to create] a visual archive that would… provide awareness for this visibly invisible community.”

The “Our Gurkhas” Facebook page aims to be a digital repository of links and published works about Singapore’s Gurkhas.

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* FYI…

South Asia is a sub-region of Asia, usually taken as comprising the modern countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The concept of “South Asia” is useful when referring to the countries of the region as a group. The descriptor can be useful when discussing issues that affect the common history, culture, etc. of the countries.

The term diaspora is used (without capitalization) to refer to any people or ethnic population forced or induced to leave their traditional ethnic homelands, being dispersed throughout other parts of the world, and the ensuing developments in their dispersal and culture.

The South Asian diaspora refers to communities of South Asians who emigrated from the Subcontinent. There are large diasporic communities in Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Zakaria Zainal. Used with permission.)