Gurkhas have been serving in the British Forces since the Anglo-Gorkha War of 1814-16 - the hard-fought conflict in which the bond of mutual admiration between British and Gorkhali (Gurkha) soldiers was forged.
This bond has, if anything, grown deeper and stronger over the past two centuries as Gurkhas have proven their courage and loyalty in war after war - giving up their lives in their tens of thousands in the First and Second World Wars and many other conflicts across world. It is fair to say that Gurkhas are regarded with great respect and affection by the people of the United Kingdom, as demonstrated by the enormous public support for the Gurkha Justice Campaign that resulted in Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 with four or more years' service being granted the right to settle in the UK.
Decades of Campaigning
The victory of the Gurkha Justice Campaign was by no means an over-night success. It has been twenty years since Gurkha veterans who retired before the 1997 Handover of Hong Kong began campaigning for the right to settle in the UK and for pensions equal to those of British soldiers - a campaign that still continues.
Although Joanna Lumley was the charismatic public face of the Gurkha Justice Campaign and solicitors firm Howe & Co provided the legal expertise, the campaign itself was the work of a coalition of Gurkha organisations, led by the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen's Organisation (GAESO), supported by the British Gurkha Welfare Society (BGWS) and a number of other groups including the Forgotten British Gurkha.
Rules from a Bygone Era?
The MOD's rules mean that Gurkhas who retired before 1997 (when Hong Kong was handed back to China) are only eligible for pensions worth a fraction of other British soldiers' pensions - including Gurkhas who retire after 1997. The pensions of Gurkhas who retire after 1997, but who also served before 1997, are calculated using a set of complex rules that effectively mean that the years they served before 1997 are worth much less than the years they served after 1997 in terms of pension contributions. Gurkhas who enlisted - i.e. joined the army - after 1997 receive the same pay, pensions and settlement rights as other British soldiers and are not affected by these arcane terms and conditions, neither are Gurkhas who become Sandhurst-commissioned 'British Officers'.
The level of pre-1997 Gurkha pensions was originally determined by the 'Tripartite Agreement' signed by Nepal, India and Britain at the time of the Partition of India in 1947. Following years of pressure from Gurkha organisations, Gurkha pensions were doubled in 1999 with a commitment to monitor the cost of living in Nepal and increase pensions accordingly. Then in 2005 the British Government began a review of Gurkhas' Terms & Conditions of Service which resulted in a revised set of 'proposals' in 2007. These revised policies did not however grant pre-1997 Gurkha Veterans any increase in their pensions. A full explanation of the British Government's position can be read in this Parliamentary Briefing from July 2009 (PDF).
While the spotlight of mainstream media attention has moved on, Gurkhas continue to campaign for equal pensions and for the right to bring family members who are over 18 to the UK. Most recently, in January 2010, Gurkha veterans from the British Gurkha Welfare Society lost their case for equal pensions at the High Court in London.
Meanwhile Gurkha veterans continue to arrive in the UK, many facing financial hardship when they arrive. The UK Gurkha community continues to support these veterans and their right to fairer pensions, with organisations such as the Gurkha Welfare Trust, the Forgotten British Gurkhas and the British Gurkha Welfare Society and UK veterans' organisations providing material support that should be coming from government agencies. Many ex-Gurkhas have expressed anger at the way in which they have been treated by the Ministry of Defence and by the British Government, who appear not to have made adequate preparations for the arrival of the Gurkha veterans that they have invited to live in the UK.
Back in Nepal, Gurkha veterans continue to live on their army pensions, while the many veterans who do not qualify for a military pension rely on the support of initiatives such as the Gurkha Welfare Trust's Welfare Pension Scheme.
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