On Nepal’s Martial Races

George Fletcher MacMunn's book is not only informative as to the British military psychology, but also interesting for contemporary security issues.

April 18, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 07 No. -20 April 18- 2014 (Baishakh 5, 2071)

Lieutenant General George Fletcher MacMunn (1869-1952) who started his military career in 1888 and retired in 1925, authored many books and papers on the armies of India and the issues of strategic interests of the British empire.

The book The Martial Races of India (London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co Ltd, 1933) is one of them. The Martial Race Theory states that there are some races which are brave and well built for fighting, while there are others who are coward or generally unfit for battles. This theory takes it for granted that the qualities that make a useful soldier are inherited and that most Indians, with the exception of the specified groups, did not have the requisite traits that would make them warriors. This classification between 'martial' and 'non-martial' race came on the fore after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Any race that they thought lived with inactive life styles were not supposed to be good warriors. Normally, the people who were considered educated, and therefore intelligent, and capable of showing their differences with the British Raj, were not recruited by the British Raj, even if they demonstrated martial qualities and exceptional valour. For example, the patriotism shown by the Indian Brahmins during the 1857 Rebellion became a factor not to recruit them in the post mutiny period as in the immediate past. The Gurkhas of Nepal, were considered martial race because they were not only considered strong, mountain built and non-sedentary, but also because they were assessed as hating Indians. The others on the group were Pashtuns, Punjabis, Kumaonis and Garhwalis. Initially, they resisted the British, but once good will was created on both sides, they remained loyal. They fought on the side of the British Raj. Frederick Sleigh Roberts defined this thinking in general as "pseudo-ethnological" construction.

George Fletcher MacMunn's book is not only informative as to the British military psychology, but also interesting for contemporary security issues. In his bid to describe the martial races, he defines the meaning of the martial race including the early warriors of this region like the Kshattriyas during the conquest of Alexander the Great, the Rajpoot warriors, the warriors and the people of Islam, the Sacca of Chittoor, the Maharatta story, and the Sikh warriors.  Thereafter, MacMunn spends some pages on the narratives of the early European settlements, the British and the French in Madras, the British in Bengal, Plassey and Buxar, Warren Hastings, the Regulating Act, the Mysore Wars, the Early Sepoy Armies of Madras, the Third and Fourth Mysore Wars, the Second and Third Mahratta Wars and the Fourth Mahratta War. He then describes armies of John Company and elaborates on how the Punjab became British and the Bengal army was mutinied. Furthermore, the situation of the Indian army between 1860 to 1914 has been described separately. When dealing with the martial class in the north, MacMunn describes Pathans who served the British Crown and the Punjabi Muhammadan, Jammu and Kashmir, the Dogra, and the Sikhs at that time. The martial races of the East and West have also been pointed out and described. His analysis of the Brahmin as a soldier also finds a place in the book. There is a comprehensive chapter on the Indian army's role in the first World War. Finally, the author also charts out the future of the Indian army and martial races.

Chapter X of The Martial Races of Indiadealing with the Gurkha as martial race certainly deserves a special mention. The Khasas, Magars and Gurungs are mentioned by the author as true Gurkhas. Khasas are described as semi-Aryan race. Magars and gurungs are described as slightly Hinduized tartars.  They are said to exhibit close touch with Buddhism. The list of Gurkhas extends to "the more aboriginal Newar, and Sunwar, and the races of Eastern Nepal, generally known by their main group names as Limbus and Rais. Both Lama and Brahmin are summoned indifferently to officiate at family feasts in Eastern Nepal. Except the Khasas, these Gurkhas are short, thickset men, and in accordance with the "rifle spirit." 

MacMunn states: "Speaking generally it may be said that the bulk of the Gurkha tribes are in no great sympathy with the races of India, and in the Army would far rather associate with the European soldier than with other Indian troops. This especially dates from intimate association of the 6oth Rifles and the Sirmoor Battalion, now the 2nd Gurkhas, during the siege of Delhi in 1857, a connection which has been very close ever since. But it was equally in evidence at the siege of Bhurtpur in 1826, when the 59th Foot and they were close friends."

Referring to the problem of Mine boy among Gurkhas, he states: "One interesting feature of the Gurkha Corps is the problem of the Mine boy/ the boy born and bred in the lines and in the colonies. If born of a Gurkha mother he has for one generation at least most of the warlike traits of his father. Sucking in the regiment tradition he makes an extremely smart soldier. Opinion rather goes in cycles as to the wisdom of encouraging him, or of going back fresh to the Tartar matrix. The Governmental policy of encouraging Gurkha colonies near the regimental stations does to a certain extent postulate their employment. With the cuteness of the line life may also come undesirable petty villainy. They are certainly most valuable as signallers, and technicians as well as in the quarter-master's branch. Sir Charles Reid who commanded the 2nd at Delhi always said that out of the twenty-five Orders of Merit gained by the regiment twelve were gained by line boys, i.e. men brought up in the regiment, and at Aliwal and Sobraon in the Sutlej campaign five out of seven were gained by such."

It is the assertion of the author that Nine-tenths of the people of Garhwal, now in India, belong to the "mysterious Khas race." He describes Garhwal as the true Khas desk, or Khas country. According to the author, the geographical traces of these Khas people are found in many a place-name like Kashgarhas, Kashmir and the like. It is difficult to locate them in "the Aryan cosmos." The question he poses thus is – "were they a separate and advance wave of Aryan, or were they earlier folk, whiter than Dravidian, who mingled with Aryans? No man knoweth. We see the same folk also in Nepal and along the Himalayan foothills towards Assam as Khasas, amid the Khasya Hills. However that may be the Khas have now Rajput Aryan status sufficient for the purposes of modern Hinduism." MacMunn describes the remaining tenth of the Garhwal people as the Tibetan Bhotyas, the Nagas, also the remnant of some lost race, and certain immigrants as well as the universal black servitors of India, the Doms. It is clear that he was describing the Khasas of the semi-Aryan stock only, and not the Khasas with clear Aryan heritage, yet without being immigrants of the plains. He mentions however that "as you get into that bit of the Himalaya between Nepal and the Simla Hills Rajputdom is a more important matter, for you are in the Garhwal Hills where Kshattriya and the ancient race call Khas, of whom so little is known, have combined to produce a race to which the reformed stamp, 'Rajput' was well and truly given. How and what they have been in recent British times shall, in due course, be shown, with the crash of the German shell as chorus and the swish of the Flanders rain as accompaniment."

Chapter X also discusses about the rise of the dynasty of Gurkha, the Gurkha invasions of British India, the first assembling of the British Army, the second campaign, and the signing in of the peace treaty. It is here that MacMunn describes the races of Nepal and the contemporary Gurkha Regiments. There are not much new angles in the analysis, but there is some new information in the book.

Finally, George Fletcher MacMunn, a British officer speaks aloud about the British Raj when he says: " The ineffective outlook of the Ghandi mind would but throw the country back, would get rid of the West and its millions of miles of life-giving water, its thousands of miles of rail that prevent famine, and would bring it where it was, like China with her bandits and war-lords.

"Scored with the brand of the burning heat,

And the wrath divine and the sins of man

And the fateful tramp of the conqueror's feet,

It has suffered all since the world began."

The true intent behind this obviously does not need any elaboration

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