The Gurkha Contingent (GC)
is a line department of the Singapore Police Force consisting primarily of Gurkhas from Nepal. Members of the GC are trained to be highly skilled and are selected for their display of strong discipline and dedication in their tasks. The principal role of the contingent is to be a special guard force, and it is currently used as a counter-terrorist force.
The GC was formed on 9 April 1949 in the wake of Indian independence from the British Empire, when Gurkha regiments of the British Indian Army were divided between the Indian Army and the British Army as per the terms of the Britain–India–Nepal Tripartite Agreement. Those transferred to the British Army were posted to other remaining British Colonies. In Malaya and Singapore, their presence was required in the Malayan Emergency, and their roles were to replace the Sikh unit in Singapore which reverted to the Indian Army on Indian independence.
Just a year after their formation, their presence became an asset when racial riots between the Malay and European communities broke out over the disputed custody of Maria Hertogh. The GC troopers were again activated when major rioting erupted all over the country between the ethnic Malays and Chinese on Prophet Mohammed's birthday from 21 July 1964 till September that same year.
At that time, their presence as a neutral force was important because local police officers were often perceived to be (or were even expected to be) biased towards their own ethnic groups when handling race-related issues, further fueling discontent and violence. Officers who attempt to carry out their duties impartially and in full accordance with the law also faced social backlash from their own ethnic communities, a difficult situation which can even lead to physical harm to individual officers.
In his autobiography, former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew recounted the use of the Gurkha Contingent as an impartial force at the time when Singapore had just gained independence. He wrote:
When I returned to Oxley Road [Lee's residence], Gurkha policemen (recruited by the British from Nepal) were posted as sentries. To have either Chinese policemen shooting Malays or Malay policemen shooting Chinese would have caused widespread repercussions. The Gurkhas, on the other hand, were
neutral, besides having a reputation for total discipline and loyalty.
Manpower and training.
Since its formation in 1949 with 142 men, the contingent has grown to over 2,000 in size in 2003. Young men are recruited in Nepal at the British Gurkha camp in Pokhara. About 320 are selected annually in December out of a pool of over 20,000 applications with about 80 eventually joining the GC while the rest will go to the British Army.
Some of the basic physical admission criteria in the recruitment camp include:
•Aged 17 1/2 to 21
•Minimum height of 160 centimetres (5 feet 3 in)
•Minimum weight of 50 kilograms (110 lbs)
•Chest circumference of 79 centimetres (31 in) with minimum 5 centimetres (2 in) expansion
•No applicants needing eyesight aids will be accepted.
•Generally good oral hygiene, with up to two fillings, false teeth or a single gap.
Applicants are expected to possess a minimum education level of SLC 3rd Division, equivalent to the GCE Ordinary Level. Upon registration, they have to go through a battery of physical and mental assessments prior to selection, including oral and written tests in the English language, a mathematics test, a board interview and medical examination. The annual selection process, which normally takes 17 days but is spread over four months due to conditions in Nepal, will then assign recruits to either the GC or the British Army.
Upon successful selection, GC trainees are flown to Singapore, and housed at the permanent base of the GC at Mount Vernon Camp where they will receive a ten-month-long training before being subsequently deployed for duties. The training phase of GC officers is relatively unknown, although they have been noted to use the jungles in Pulau Tekong for training. Arrangements with the Royal Brunei Police Force have allowed Gurkha officers to conduct jungle training in Brunei for several years. Training from external agencies were also received from the SAF Medical Training Institute for medical courses.
Organization and rank structure.
There are a total of nine Gurkha Guard companies commanded by local and British officer. As a British colonial import, the first contingent commander was a British officer, and until today, it remains the only military or police unit to be headed by a British officer in Singapore seconded from the British Army. The current commander is Assistant Commissioner Ross Forman. The contingent also has its own Gurkha Band Contingent, the Gurkha Contingent Pipes and Drums Platoon, which is part of the Singapore Police Force Band. The Gurkha Contingent Pipes and drums platoon is commanded by P&D OIC Inspector Prem Kumar Rai.
In addition, the Gurkha Contingent has three tactical forces, in which they are called the Special Action Group, the Special Guard and Counter-Terrorist Unit and the new Special Tactical Unit. The Gurkha Special Action Group was first seen taking part in Exercise Northstar VII as they planned and infiltrated Marriott Hotel in Orchard Road and subdued two "terrorists" and rescuing the "hostages."
The new Special Tactical Unit took part in Exercise Northstar 10 as they responded to the suicide bombing that "killed" the passengers nearby and the Gurkha, along with some members of People's Defence Force and the airport police officer, disabled the "gunmen" and
rescued a "hostage" in Changi Airport Terminal 3.
The rank structure of the GC has remained largely unchanged over the years, thus retaining several ranks which have since been abolished in the rest of the police force. It is currently the only unit to retain the rank of Chief Inspector, and to recruit new officers as Constables as opposed to regular officers in the rest of the SPF who start from a minimum rank of Sergeant.
Senior Staff Sergeant
Deputy Assistant Commissioner
Senior Assistant Commissioner
Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, the GC was seldom seen in public besides being stationed at key locations such as the Istana, and the homes of VIPs such as former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the President of Singapore. Those on the VIP homes had outsourced currently and only those who speak English will be accepted into protecting VIP homes. They were also seen stationed at important foreign properties such as the British High Commission and installations which require added security such as the Currency House at Pasir Panjang.
Changing security concerns since 2001 has led to a more active deployment of GC troopers in recent years, and a review of their existing roles. Previously known for standing guard atop lookout towers at Changi Prison where the country's top criminals are housed, this role has since been outsourced to private auxiliary police forces in the mid-2000s with the liberalization of the private armed security industry.
Besides guarding key installations, Gurkha troopers are also increasingly deployed during key national events. They are deployed during the annual National Day Parade, and complemented the police's stringent security measures during the 117th IOC Session held in Singapore in July 2005. In addition, they are also deployed to watch over sealed ballot boxes during the country's general elections. Most recently, the GC was involved in the hunt for escaped detainee Mas Selamat bin Kastari and 2013 Little India riots. GCs are now currently involved with many police and security officers at the MRT station passenger service centers for cash top-up services since 1 September 2017.
On 18 March 2004, three armed fugitives escaped from Johor, Malaysia after committing armed robbery, and fled by a motorized sampan to Pulau Tekong. Over 700 personnel from the police and the SAF were activated, with the first fugitive captured by the Gurkha officers within 34 hours from the commencement of the search operation. The second fugitive was arrested by the Police Coast Guard's Special Task Squadron officers, while the last man was again caught by the GC six hours after the second arrest.
Less publicly known is the GC's role in helping to train fellow officers in the police force, as well as other agencies including that of the military. Their fitness, combat and survival skills were imparted through various courses, in return for their help, they have similarly received from other agencies in training GC troopers. Gurkhas occasionally lead police senior officer trainees in runs and other physical training.
The GC has also contributed to Singapore's overseas security and humanitarian missions. For example, GC officers were part of a 40-man Singapore Police Contingent to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor in 2000. They also joined a 30-man team to Iraq to help train about 1,500 local Iraqi trainers and police officers for three months before returning to Singapore on 19 September 2003.
The uniforms of the GC are largely adapted from those of their regular counterparts, adopting the same dark blue outfit but distinguished by their signature headgear, the 'Gurkha hat'. Until recent times, the uniform has remained largely unchanged over the past decades, resulting in increased differences from that of regular police officers. For example, the adoption of embroidered ranks and badges, the abolition of long-sleeved shirts for short-sleeved ones, and the removal of the whistle and chain from the no.3 dress has not been followed by the Gurkhas. This resistance towards changes to the uniform for the sake of officer comfort and welfare is reflective of the contingent's culture of strict adherence to tradition and the placing of duty above self.
From 2006, however, the uniform received radical updates in line with changes to the uniforms of their local counterparts, but the Gurkha hat remains unchanged.
The Hat Terai Gurkha is the name of the headgear worn by officers of the Gurkha Contingent in Singapore. A distinctive part of the Gurkha uniform not worn by any other member of the Singapore Police Force, it is named after the Terai region in Nepal, a location linked to the events surrounding the Gurkha War. Worn only during guard duty and on parades, the hat is made of khaki-coloured felt with a dark blue puggaree wound around the hat with six folds. The aluminium silver anodized police force cap badge is affixed on the puggaree to the left. It is always worn with the chin strap and is deliberately tilted far enough to the right that the brim touches the right ear.