20 years of the Gurkha Justice Campaign

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The Gurkha Brigade are a critical part of the British Army, and they have been for over 200 years. The Gurkhas are soldiers from Nepal, who were recruited into the British Army following the peace deal signed in 1815 between the Kingdom of Nepal and the British East India Company. The Victorians were impressed by the valour and fighting qualities of the Gurkhas, hence targeted them for recruitment. 

More than 200,000 Gurkhas fought in the world wars, receiving 13 Victoria Crosses. They are based in Shorncliffe (Kent), Aldershot (Hampshire) and in Brunei. The soldiers are still chosen from young men in Nepal, and the selection process is one of the toughest in the world. For the last two decades, they have been fighting endlessly on the home front for their immigration and pension rights. In 2004, the Gurkha Justice Campaign began. 

Approximately 40,000 Gurkhas had joined the Campaign in the early 2000s, but that figure has reduced considerably since. The Campaign rose to national recognition after support from Liberal Democrat adviser Peter Carroll and actor Joanna Lumley, whose father served in the 6th Gurkha Rifles. Only then did the Government feel the need to address the issue, announcing in 2007 that the pension rules were altered to grant Gurkha soldiers who retired after 1997 (being the year that the Brigade’s base shifted from Hong Kong to the UK) with equal pensions. 

Ex-Gurkha and campaigner Deepak Maskey stated that his pension was “less than 6% of that paid to [his] British counterpart” – raising concerns about the extent to which the Government made pensions equal following the change. The Centre for Nepal Studies UK revealed that 3,438 Gurkhas have been identified as living in poverty, receiving a monthly £40 charity benefit provided by the Gurkha Welfare Trust. Campaigner Gyanraj Rai stated that his pension was just £47 per month, while his British counterpart with the same ranking earned over £800. On this issue, the Gurkha and British Government perspectives are in conflict – with the Government claiming that the “Gurkha Pension Scheme was good and fair” in 2010. There is a clear disconnect in pensions, which only exacerbated once ex-Gurkhas were granted immigration into the UK. 

More than 200,000 Gurkhas fought in the world wars, receiving 13 Victoria Crosses

In September 2004, Gurkhas who retired after 1997 were granted settlement in the UK with their families. But those who retired prior were not addressed. So, in May 2009, the British Government announced that Gurkhas who retired before 1997, with four or more years service in the British army, would be granted settlement in the UK with their wives and children. In the revised policy, there was “no mention of Gurkha widows and their adult dependents” ex-Gurkha Maskey stated. Hence, the supposed ‘watershed’ verdict in the Campaign led to unresolved resolutions, as the terms of the settlement were ambiguous and difficult to achieve for those who retired prior to 1997. 

To name a few, Gurkhas needed to have close family in the UK, or a long-term medical condition caused by their service in the army or a bravery award (such as the Victoria Cross). These specific terms isolated many Gurkhas from affirming their settlement rights. Campaigners claimed that under these policies, only approximately 100 Gurkhas would qualify even though the government claimed approximately 5,000 would be able to. 

In August 2021, Gurkha veterans commenced a 13-day hunger strike outside Downing Street, to pressure the Government to enter into talks between Nepal and the UK. It took a year before a meeting was organised between campaigner Major Jud Bahadur Gurung, the Embassy of Nepal, and the Ministry of Defence. 

Petitions to Parliament have gained traction online, with over 100,000 signatures to address unequal pensions of Gurkhas who retired before 1997. Following the November 2022 debate, a committee was set up to address these decade-long concerns, but they have been ineffective in dealing with problems faced by ex-Gurkhas. 

Campaigners are looking at the Tripartite Agreement of 1947, and if a disparity in conditions is legally found, the UK could be facing a potential breach of Article 55 under the UN Charter. Nonetheless, at the heart of the Campaign is justice and dignity, and the ex-Gurkhas reiterate the importance of friendship and equality within the British Army. 

Image: ResoluteSupportMedia via Flickr

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