The Gurkha justice campaign started in 1990 and reached a pinnacle in 2009 by securing United Kingdom resettlement rights for Gurkha ex-servicemen and their descendants. Since then, many Gurkha families have moved to the UK and settled down. But Gurkhas’ struggles have yet to end.
For the tens of thousands of Gurkhas living in the UK there are many disparities between themselves and their British counterparts, especially in pay, pension, and welfare. Despite doing the same job, the Gurkhas were paid only a fraction of what British soldiers were paid. Many Gurkha veterans feel they are deprived of a dignified life in a rich country that should be able to reward them more fairly.
After the landmark decision of May 21, 2009, many improvements were initiated regarding the pay, pension and welfare of the Gurkhas in anticipation of the Gurkhas’ changed situation. But despite all the changes, there remains such a huge gap in pension and welfare allowances that Gurkha veterans complain they can hardly scrape by – must either rely on working children to support them or dig into savings. The unlucky ones blessed with neither of those options have had to toil on and live with indignity.
The sorry state of the Gurkha veterans has reignited the Gurkha justice campaign again. If the British were not prepared to take care of the Gurkha veterans, why were they permitted to resettle in the UK? The gravest issue pointed out by the Gurkha-related organizations leading the campaign is the pension of those Gurkha veterans who served the British after World War II and before 1994. This problem can be solved by adjusting the pension to a certain level that will be enough for the Gurkha veterans to live a dignified retiring life. After all, they have fought for the British.
After a lot of noise and demonstration, a special technical committee was formed of representatives of the Gurkhas’ leading organizations, the British Ministry of Defense and Nepal’s London embassy. They have been talking for the last three years. The talks came to an abrupt end this year, on March 7, when Mark Lancaster, the honorable minister of state for the armed forces, finally made a much-anticipated announcement on the ongoing issue. It was all words, no substance.
The British were back to the same old tricks again. They haven’t changed for the last 200 years, why should they now?
The Gurkha campaigners were utterly disappointed and vehemently rejected the British offer. Having worked hard jockeying for support from the Nepali government and mainstream political party leaders, the Gurkha campaigners were disappointed. They vehemently rejected the British offer.
Their disappointment was understandable. Before the announcement, the British minister had embarked on a four-day official visit to Nepal and had met with all the relevant ministers including the Nepali prime minister. The Gurkha community was hopeful, and expectations were pretty high. The suffering and indignity of the Gurkhas were about to end for good, after all. How naïve they were!
As the saying goes, everything happens with a reason. The Gurkha justice campaign is no exception. Here are the three main reasons why they couldn’t get a favorable result.
The British – The British for the last 200 years in dealing with the Gurkhas have applied the same old tricks – flattery, trickery and treachery. As far as the British are concerned, the Gurkhas are not only cheap but also dispensable, and they should never be treated equally.
Based on that principle, they made separate rules and regulations for the Gurkhas, still using the same old and outdated 1947 treaty and exploiting the Gurkhas through the Indian Pay Code dating from the days of the British Raj back in India before 1947.
The British minister announced increases ranging from 10 to 34% increase in the Gurkhas’ pensions. The increases were supposed scheduled to take effect by 2016. But the Gurkhas rejected the offer. There were good reasons.
There are two Gurkha infantry battalions currently in the UK, and the government planned to add one more Gurkha battalion within 2019. This clearly showed why the British had offered an increase in the Gurkhas’ pension now. It was simply offered as a sweetener before the British would ask for more new blood from Nepal. The minister’s meeting with relevant officials in Nepal was similarly motivated.
The statement offering more generous pensions said they would provide enough for a pensioner to live a comfortable life back in Nepal – ignoring the fact that Gurkha veterans now live in the UK. Thus the British authorities made a mockery of themselves as ignorant and out of touch with reality.
The Nepal government – Although Gurkhas are Nepalis, the Nepal government and its rulers have never shown concern for the soldiers’ wellbeing in the 200 years of their service. Instead, the authorities have always used the Gurkhas as their diplomatic tool and never hesitated to exploit them whenever necessary. Due to racial, social and political motives, the Gurkhas were mostly neglected by the ruling elites, and that hasn’t changed much even today.
Besides, the Nepali rulers had a tendency of having a weak knee for the British. They felt proud to be seen as a friend of the British, and they loved the donation money more than they loved their fellow countrymen – the Gurkhas. Thus, the involvement of the London Nepali embassy in the talks was nothing more than a show. The dilplomats wanted to look good to the Gurkha community in the UK, and probably had nothing much to offer. At the end of the day, they will listen to what their master from Kathmandu has to say. Hoping for a different outcome would be nothing more than a wishful thought.
The Gurkha Campaigners – Most of the Gurkhas are naturally happy, easygoing and straightforward people. They don’t like serious issues, and they instead prefer to go on with their normal life on their own terms. Thus it’s quite amazing that the Gurkha justice campaign lasted for such a long time and those community leaders must be applauded for working so hard and making the campaign still relevant. However, the community still lacks unity, and that has severely harmed the campaign. Had the campaigners been united and became one, the campaign would have been won by now.
After the British Minister’s recent announcement, the agitated Gurkha campaigners rejected the British offer and prepared for a showdown. They have given the British until June 1 to resolve the Gurkhas grievances. Meanwhile, more rallies and demonstrations are announced, media are mobilized and seminars within the Gurkha communities are also arranged. If their demands are not met by then, the campaigners say, they will stop the British Gurkha recruitment policy once and for all.
Let’s hope for a happy ending for the long-suffering Gurkhas community, so, they can live a happy and dignified life. Jai Gurkhas!