On the 21st of May 2009, after many years of campaigning, the Gurkha Justice Campaign, a coalition of ex-Gurkhas' organisations led by the Gurkha Army Ex-servicemen's Organisation (GAESO) and supported by the actress Joanna Lumley and a legal team from Howe & Co solicitors, won a historic victory over the British Labour government of the time: the right to settle in the UK for all ex-Gurkhas who had served four or more years in the British Army and had retired before 1997 (the time of the Handover of Hong Kong). Any Gurkha who retired since 1997 has automatically had this right, along with much better pay and pensions, while his elder brothers in arms, who retired before 1997 have not enjoyed such 'privileges'.
Today a great injustice has been righted. We won't be looking behind us. We're paying tribute to the future, and for the people of Great Britain what could be greater than to be able to open our arms and say, 'The Gurkhas are coming! Ayo Gorkhali!'
Joanna Lumley outside the Houses of Parliament, 21st May 2009
The Great British Public
The Gurkha Justice Campaign enjoyed massive public support from all sections of British society: a phenomenon that only served to underline the huge respect and affection that the British public has for the British Gurkhas. Joanna Lumley was very much the public face of the campaign and her passionate defence of the rights of retired Gurkhas in the face of strong government opposition played a great part in helping to mobilise the British media and public opinion in support of the campaign. Joanna Lumley's father, Major James Lumley, served as a Chindit in the 6th Gurkha Rifles (see our World War II Timeline entry) with Victoria Cross holder Tulbahadur Pun.
The Price of Victory
The success of the Gurkha Justice Campaign marked a major milestone in the struggle of ex-Gurkhas for fairer treatment by the British Government, but it was not an outright victory: the terms of the settlement agreement meant that aged ex-Gurkhas could come to live in the United Kingdom but could only bring dependents under the age of 18. As many ex-Gurkhas who retired before 1997 are now quite elderly, this prevented the majority of them from bringing any family members with them other than their wives. Once here in the UK, many Gurkha veterans have struggled to make ends meet - with only their meagre pensions and support from Gurkhas families and welfare groups to rely on.
After the joy of victory and a jubilant tour of Nepal by Joanna Lumley, concerns began to be expressed about GAESO's integrity and its treatment of its own ex-Gurkha membership. Accusations were also levelled at Joanna Lumley and Howe & Co in the British media. Ms Lumley made a public statement denying any wrong-doing and reiterated her continuing support for ex-Gurkhas, which includes the launching of the Debt of Honour fund-raising campaign with the Gurkha Welfare Trust, which we strongly urge you to support.
After the Celebrations: the Fight Goes On
At the time of writing many Gurkha veterans are leaving their homes in Nepal and coming to the UK. Once here many of them encounter a range of difficulties. Their pre-1997 pensions are extremely meagre by British standards and although the UK Gurkha community and welfare groups continue to do all that they can to support them, many are living in hardship. The British government has made inadequate provisions for these arriving veterans and their dependants and now that the spotlight of public attention has moved on, it would seem that Gurkhas once again must campaign for the right to be treated equally.
The difficult circumstances of many retired Gurkha Veterans in the UK only serves to highlight the inadequate pensions that 'pre-1997' Gurkhas receive, as they continue to campaign for fairer payment for their years of service.