Gurkhas rally in the UK. Photo: Gyanraj Rai
Gurkhas rally in the UK. Photo: Gyanraj Rai

Gurkhas United Front, an alliance of various groups that advocate for Gurkhas’ rights, has been calling for an equal pension for former troops over the past two decades but their calls remain unresolved.

Gurkhas from the Himalayan nation of Nepal have served in the British regular army since 1815 and remain a strong force now. There has not been a war where they haven’t fought alongside the British including WWI and WWII. Tens of thousands of Gurkhas were killed, lost and injured while they have won more than 5,000 awards for gallantry including 13 Victoria Crosses.

When the Tripartite Treaty was signed in 1947 by the British, Indian and Nepalese governments, Nepal was said to have been hastily included at the last minute. As a result, Nepal’s claims could only be put on annexes of the main treaty.

In the footnotes to Annexure III (Nepalese suggestions) section H of Tripartite Treaty, ACB Symon, the British Representative, made it clear that “subject to the limitation as of finance and supply, welfare facilities would be provided for Gurkha troops on similar lines to those provided to British (UK) troops”.

In a tripartite meeting in Kathmandu on November 7, 1947, Symon also emphasized that the UK government did not regard Gurkha troops as mercenaries but an integral and distinguished part of the British Army. However, the reality was a completely different thing.

During the Raj in India, Gurkhas were hired and sacked at Britain’s discretion, but after WWII hundreds of thousands of Gurkhas were sent home empty-handed and were never given a pension or gratuity.

According to a report published by the Centre for Nepal Studies UK in 2013, a warrant officer (class-1) in the British army could get a pension of ₤5,269 (US$6,903) per year, while a captain could get ₤6,348 per year in 1989 – about 10 times what a British Gurkha could get.

The UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) said it had tried to make some improvements – but there is still a long way to go. The MOD argued that the Gurkhas’ pensions were always pegged to the Indian Pay Code, so they just followed that. They said all Gurkhas were meant to return to Nepal eventually and were paid enough to return to their village and enjoy a comfortable life.

Clearly, the British had their interpretation of the Tripartite Treaty and ignored benefits Gurkhas were entitled to. And the Nepal government never raised a question about the matter. Had it not been for new groups for former soldiers – such as the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organization, the Gurkha Satyagraha, the British Gurkha Welfare Society, Ex-Servicemen’s Association, United British Gurkhas Ex-army Association United Kingdom, British Council of Gurkhas, British Gurkha Ex-Servicemen’s Organisation – the injustice these troops have faced would have gone unnoticed while they suffered in silence.

Things got a little more complicated in 2009 when Gurkhas won the right to be residents in the UK after a long and hard-fought campaign. There are now around 100,000 Gurkhas plus their families living in the UK, and they have put a lot of pressure on public expenses.

Tikendra Dewan, a retired major who is a leading figure in the Gurkha campaign and also a successful businessman, said: “If the UK government provided equal pensions to all Gurkhas, they might prefer to stay back in Nepal and local councils wouldn’t have all these problems. And it would cost the UK government much less than they are actually spending now.”

Gurkha activist Gyanraj Rai said a well-planned and united team of campaigners was expected for high-level talks with the UK government very soon and hoping for a breakthrough. Most importantly, it will reportedly be led by the Nepali ambassador in London.

That has led to hope that the Gurkhas may eventually get some good news.

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