I am the first to admit that history is not my forte but having heard about the Gurkha hunger strikes currently taking place in Whitehall in London, I felt compelled to do my research and educate myself. For those who don’t know, much like myself 24 hours ago, the Gurkhas are Nepalese soldiers who were recruited to the British Army and have had an alliance with Britain for over 200 years. They have fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia to name but a few.
When India gained independence in 1947, the original Gurkha regiments were split between the British and the Indian Army. A separate system was put in place for the Gurkhas pay and pension which avoided integrating them into the main British and Indian Armies. The idea behind this was to calculate their pay and pension based on standard living in Nepal, and as such, Gurkhas were paid 10 times less than their British Army equivalents. However, in 2009, it was decided that all veterans who retired before 1997 with a minimum of 4 years’ service would be allowed to settle in the UK. Those who served between 1948 and 2007 are members of the Gurkhas Pension Scheme (GPS), which was designed for them to move back to Nepal, where the cost of living is much lower. However, many of those under the GPS took up the right to settle in the UK.
The hunger strikes happening are not a recent protest; the Gurkhas have been protesting for the last 30 years to try and obtain the same pay and pension as the British Armed Forces. Approximately 19,000 Gurkha soldiers have given their lives in Britain’s name, and I find it pretty appalling that those who have retired before 1997 are not eligible for a full UK armed forces pension, despite displaying the same amount of bravery and selflessness as a British soldier. They have played a key part in many wars through the decades, including two World Wars and they deserve the respect of receiving the same pension as any other British soldier.
Gurkhas who had physical and mental scars were often discharged back to Nepal with little to no pension or severance pay. Thankfully, charities such as the Gurkha Welfare Trust provide financial, medical and development aid to Gurkha veterans and their communities. Most recently, the charity installed a new water system outside homes in the village of Simle, Khandbari to ensure the communities had access to clean and reliable water. A very worthy organisation supporting thousands when Britain didn’t.
The Gurkha selection process is a rigorous one, whereby trainees are tested on English grammar, mathematics and what is known as a doko race involving running a 4.2km course whilst carrying 25kg of sand. Currently there are around 3,500 Gurkhas serving in the British Army and since 2007 have been receiving the same pay and benefits as any other British Armed Forces Officer. But now is the time to reach out to those who fought for and defended our country all those years ago and repay them for their bravery.