The defence ministry has relaxed the education qualification needed for Gorkhas to join the Indian Army after reports that the number of recruits from the community in the force had been decreasing for many years.
In a letter dated December 21, 2020, to Darjeeling MP Raju Bista, defence minister Rajnath Singh said: “It is informed that the educational qualification requirement in respect of all Gorkhas for recruitment in Indian Army has been amended in Sep, 2020 and is applicable till 31st March, 2023.”
The Telegraph had in its November 14, 2020, edition reported that many Gorkha veterans were of the opinion that the change in recruitment criteria and also socio-economic factors were behind the dip in the recruitment.
Unlike their fellow compatriots, Indian Gorkhas have always been given relaxation in the minimum qualification requirement. “In 2001, while fellow Indians needed to be Class X pass with a minimum aggregate of 45 per cent, Gorkhas only needed to be Class VIII pass,” said Col. (retd) Keshab Rai, who was one of the veterans to flag the issue before the defence minister.
Over the years, there were many changes in the qualifications required for the Gorkha recruits. In 2019, a Gorkha needed to pass Class X with 45 per cent marks in aggregate and 33 per cent in each subject.
“The problem (of low intake) started in the beginning of this decade and reached a problematic stage from 2017 onwards….the tinkering in the established system was carried out because of over-emphasis on All India All Caste (AIAC) and Recruitable Male Population (RMP) concepts by some staffs of the Recruitment Department,” Col. (retd) Rai had stated in his letter to the defence minister.
Rajnath Singh in his letter to Bista said he had the “matter examined,” after the Darjeeling MP had raised the issue with him on September 28, 2020.
“The current educational qualification for Soldier (GD) is class 10th pass and for soldier Tradesman is Class 8th pass respectively,” said Singh.
The relaxation has come as a boon for the Gorkhas but army veterans have attributed to other factors like drop in physical standards to the low recruitment. Even though there is relaxation in height and educational qualifications, there is no exception in the standard of recruitment test that a Gorkha has to undergo.
“The first test is a one mile race and one has to complete it in 5.40 minutes. One has to run like a horse and even if you jog for 10 paces, you are finished,” Lt. Gen. (retd) Shakti Gurung, a former director general (recruiting), Indian Army, had earlier said.
The Indian Army has seven Gorkha regiments with approximately 40,000 personnel. While 60 per cent of the vacancies are reserved for citizens of Nepal, the remaining 40 per cent are allotted for Indian Gorkhas.
There is no dearth of recruits from Nepal but the Indian Gorkha vacancies are being under-subscribed.
The association of Gorkhas — even from Nepal — with India is over 200 years old.
The steely grit of Gorkhas was first internationally recognised during the Anglo- Nepalese war (1814-16) between East India Company and Gorkha Kingdom. Even though the Gorkhas lost the war, the valour of the community impressed the British to the extent that they decided to recruit “Gurkhas”.
At the time of India’s independence, the British had 10 Gorkha regiments, which has served with distinction in all major wars that the British fought.
After India gained Independence in 1947, a pact generally called “Tripartite Agreement (TPA)” was signed the same year among the UK, India and Nepal, in which Nepal agreed to allow Gorkha troops in the armies of the UK and India.
Following the agreement, six out of 10 Gorkha regiments became part of Indian Army and the remaining four went with the British army.
However, some Gorkha soldiers refused to join the British Army. To retain them, the Indian Army made the decision to raise the 11 Gorkha Rifles.
The UK still recruits “Gurkhas” but only Nepal citizens are eligible for their force. Also, the number of recruits for the “Gurkha regiment” are far less than the Indian Army.