The Gurkha’s struggles for pay parity are steeped in history. Retired British Gurkha soldiers were left to fight a lonely battle for their salaries, perks and pensions thus far.
The government of Nepal has decided to join talks with the British government on the pension-related demands of Britain’s ex-Gurkha soldiers. The issue of an equality in pensions is a long-pending demand of the Gurkha soldiers.
Nepal’s newly appointed ambassador to UK, Gyan Chandra Acharya to lead the discussion with the British government. Nepal’s ministry of foreign affairs wants the ambassador to prioritise the discussions.
Discussions are on with members of ex-Gurkha servicemen associations to prepared the grounds for the talks.
In July 2021, a group of veteran British Gurkha soldiers staged a 13-day long relay hunger strike close to Downing Street, the seat of power. The hunger strike was organized by the British Gurkha Satyagraha United Struggle Committee (BGSUSC), a group formed to carry out the campaign for equal pension for the Gurkhas, besides other demands.
Campaign for equality
They started a campaign for “justice” in 1990 in Nepal led by different associations of former soldiers. In 2009, the Gurkhas were granted the right of abode in the UK which meant that they could move to live in UK – a move best with cultural incompatibilities and harsh living conditions on measly pensions.
Years of negotiations have meant that Gurkha soldiers recruited in later years are not as discriminated. But the retired soldiers have been left to fight a lonely battle for their salaries, perks and pensions thus far.
A list of 13 demands prepared by the BGSUSC in May 2021 and rallies and a relay hunger strike have yielded little – eventually bringing the Nepal government into the picture. The pressure to deliver is now on the country’s new ambassador.
Nepal is not a member of the Commonwealth either and the present talks are also prompted by a debate in Nepal about letting its young people fight the battles of a distant country.
Every year, thousands of young Nepalis compete for employment with the British army’s Brigade of Gurkhas and the Gurkha contingent of the Singapore police. There are even training academies that have sprung up, training them for the physical tests as well as rudimentary three-Rs.
History of discrimination
The Gurkha campaign has a 30-year-long history. Or actually, over two centuries since the Gurkhas began serving the British Crown in 1815 – starting with three regiments to fight the British battles, including the wars against the Marathas (1817-19), the Jats (1824-26) the two Sikh wars (1845-46 and 1949), the second Afghan war of 1878-80 and the Burma war of 1885.
Over two lakh Gurkhas also served the British army during the first and second world wars.
The Gurkhas were not paid from the UK treasury. Instead, their salaries were sourced from colonial governments in Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, calculating their remuneration dues on living standards in Nepal.
Many soldiers returned to Nepal complaining about a lack of compensation. The Gurkhas were paid less than their counterparts in the British Army and this disparity also reflected in their pensions.
Image: Wikimedia. Picture by Stig Berge