On Purkha Diwas, Gurkhas commemorate their past

Started in Hong Kong, Purkha Diwas is a day of Nepali remembrance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2014, 5:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2014, 5:46am

What started as a small act of remembrance in Hong Kong a decade ago has grown into a major commemoration for Gurkhas across the world.

Gurkha communities in Brunei, Britain and Nepal now observe Purkha Diwas, which translates to Ancestors' Day, to commemorate the Nepali soldiers renowned for their skill in combat but often overlooked in history.

"We did it to blend in with the local culture, but also to remember our history and our people," said Amod Rai, secretary of the Gurkha Cemeteries Trust Hong Kong. "We also want to tell our next generation about where we are from."

Purkha Diwas started in 2004 when the trust was able to secure funds to clean and landscape the Gurkha Cemetery, which had fallen into decay. Hundreds turned up yesterday at the Gurkha Cemetery, including Gurkha veterans from the British and Indian regiments.

The Gurkha Cemetery at San Tin , which contains approximately 700 marked graves, is extremely hard to access because a PLA barracks stands in the way.

Some 30,000 Nepalis live in Hong Kong, most of them related to the Gurkhas who were stationed here by the British. After fighting the Gurkhas in Nepal from 1814 to 1816, the British started employing them as soldiers, considered them the toughest and deadliest in battle.

Before 1997, there were 9,000 Gurkhas in Hong Kong, said retired Gurkha Khimding Ratna, who served in the city in the 1980s and 1990s. Some 500 to 700 Gurkhas remain here today.

"We are good [soldiers] because we are willing to do any task and we are very tough," Ratna said.

Gurkhas who served in Hong Kong were given residency after the 1997 handover, but many chose to emigrate to Britain, Ratna said.

The Gurkhas date back to 1948 in Hong Kong, but had been denied a place in the city's history, Ratna said. "We are unrecognised," he said. "Ours is an incomplete story." Ratna said Gurkha history should be taught in schools. "Our children have the right to know the history as well," he said.

Narhang Rai, chairman of the trust, added: "We don't have a complete story to tell the next generation. So it's time to have academics, media and society come together and do this." Subriana Rai, 14, whose father is a retired Gurkha, wished she knew more of their history. "It's important to know how [our ancestors] struggled a lot and made compromises to be here," she said. "If we don't know our history, we can't learn others' history."