Hundreds of ex-Gurkha soldiers gathered in central London on Tuesday to “demand justice” as the British government eased restrictions on fighting Covid-19.
They carried placards with slogans such as “We need justice, we should be treated equally”.
The Sikh community in Britain, some ex-British soldiers and other organizations also expressed solidarity with the ex-Gurkha soldiers.
Similarly, some youths of Nepali origin participating in the demonstration in support of the Gurkha soldiers had demanded the British government to vaccinate Nepal against Covid-19.
One of the protesters was 75-year-old former Gurkha Kul Prasad Thapa.
Thapa, who was born in Tanahu in western Nepal and lives in Gaindakot, Nawalpur, came to the UK in 2011.
He lives in Plumstead, London, with his wife, youngest daughter and son-in-law.
He said that after 10 years of service in the British service, the British returned to Nepal barefoot without any pension ‘redundancy’.
“Then I suffered a lot to raise a family, to raise a son and a daughter,” he recalls.
“Our movement will continue until justice is done,” he said.
The British Gurkha Satyagraha Joint Struggle Committee UK-Nepal, which organized the protest on Tuesday, has also sent a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson with its demands.
The letter, signed by Krishna Bahadur Rai, chief coordinator of the struggle committee, called on the Nepali and British governments to immediately initiate talks and form a negotiating team to open the venue.
The letter states that if their demands are not heard within the next two weeks (June 30), they will go on a relay hunger strike from July 1, 2021.
“We have been protesting for decades against discrimination against us on issues including pensions, but the British government has not yet listened to us,” said Gyan Raj Rai, campaign director for the Gurkha Satyagraha.
“We are ready to die, but we will not give up our movement for justice and equality.”
He also demanded the implementation of the report submitted in March 2018 by the Joint Technical Committee comprising representatives of the Government of Nepal, the British Government and major Gurkha organizations.
What are the grievances of Ex Gorkhas?
The history of Gurkha recruitment in the British Army is more than two hundred years old.
Gurkha soldiers fought in many parts of the world, including the First and Second World Wars, and lost thousands of lives.
The main points made by the Joint Technical Committee formed in March 2018 to study the grievances of ex-Gurkha soldiers are as follows:
- British Gurkhas, who have completed 22 years of service, should receive full retirement as per the rank of other British soldiers.
- A Gurkha officer who started his service at the age of 21 and completed 16 years of service should receive full retirement as per other British officers.
- Gurkha soldiers who have completed 15 years of service should receive a pension at a proportional rate as other British soldiers who have served for 22 years.
- The following pensions should be made similar to the British with immediate effect: pensions for those who have died in the line of duty or in the war, and pensions for the Liberals, Disabilities, Widows and Pundits.
- Those who were fired before 1975 should be given a lump sum payment.
- Those who have retired after at least two years of service after 1975 but have not received any pension should be given a preserved pension.
- Gurkha soldiers who have paid national insurance while living in the UK, as well as have not received the same salary allowance, should be entitled to a state-paid pension.
- Since the Gurkhas have been historically unjustified, they should be compensated according to their rank and period of service.
- Children of British Gurkhas who have retired or been dismissed after regular service but have now died should receive a goodwill payment.
- There should be a system of medical treatment in Nepal for the British Gurkhas in the same way as the Indian Gurkhas got in Nepal
- All children over the age of 30 of the British Gurkha should also be given the right to reside in the UK
- Ex-British Gurkhas and their families should be allowed to visit Nepal for 90 days annually
- Arrangements should be made for the pension money to go directly to the Central Bank of Nepal (Nepal Rastriya Bank)
Note: These 13 points are an informal summary. See the report of the committee for the official list.
Thirteen Gurkha soldiers have received the British Army’s highest medal for bravery, the Victoria Cross.
Gurkha soldiers who retired before 1997 have been complaining of discrimination in matters including pensions.
He says his pension is only one-third that of British soldiers.
But the British government has claimed that there was no discrimination against Gurkha soldiers.
British soldiers recruited before 1997 will get pension only after 22 years of service but Gurkha soldiers will get pension after 15 years and they will retire in Nepal.
British officials say their pensions are not discriminatory.
In 2009, under pressure from prominent British figures, including British actress Joanna Lamley, during the Gurkha protests, the British government announced accommodation for ex-Gurkha soldiers who had served in the British Army for at least four years.
Since then, tens of thousands of former Gurkha soldiers and their families have moved to the UK.
Will the demands of the Gurkha soldiers be met?
In response to a memorandum sent by five major Gurkha organizations in April in coordination with the Gurkha Department of the Non-Resident Nepali Association UK, the British government stated that it could not reconsider its demands, including pensions.
A letter from the British Ministry of Defense said, “The British Ambassador to Nepal is in constant touch with the Foreign Minister of Nepal. The Government of Nepal may also speak to the British Ambassador about the grievances of the former Gurkhas.”
Analysts watching the former Gurkha movement closely say that the British government is not very positive towards the demands of the Gurkhas.
A researcher affiliated with Oxford University in the UK, Dr. Krishna Adhikari said, “Retrospective decisions have to be taken to address the pension demands of ex-Gurkha soldiers and as they could have a global impact, the British do not seem to be very positive towards the demands of Gurkha soldiers. It seems appropriate to find a lasting solution to this problem. ”
The agitating Gurkha Satyagraha and other Gurkha organizations have called on the Government of Nepal and the British Government to immediately start talks to discuss the report of the Joint Technical Committee. Although the British government has responded positively, the Nepali government has not yet responded.
Mrs. Roshan Khanal, Deputy Chief of Mission and Spokesperson of the Nepali Embassy in London, said that the Government of Nepal was always ready to resolve the Gurkha issue through dialogue. “During his visit to London in 2019, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli drew the attention of the then British Prime Minister to meet the demands of the Gurkha soldiers. That is the view of the Government of Nepal.”
However, some Gurkha leaders understand that the government of Nepal has not paid much attention to the Gurkha issue in the wake of the ongoing Covid crisis and the announcement of elections.
Therefore, there are no indications that the demands of ex-Gurkha soldiers like Kul Prasad Thapa, who is more than seven and a half decades old, will be met soon.