British Army Gurkhas have vowed to go on hunger strike until death in a dispute about pensions.
For the 25 000 Gurkhas who retired before 1997, their pensions are almost a third less than British and Commonwealth veterans. Others, like Dil Bahadur Thapa (pictured), who lost a finger while fighting Malay guerillas, get no pension at all: his 13 years of service do not qualify him for the Gurkha Pension Scheme (GPS), which requires at least 15 years of service.
This is the latest in a series of hunger strikes that aim to bring politicians to the table. Two weeks ago, Dr. Ram Narayan Kandangwa, a Gurkha spokesman, announced relay hunger strikes which saw a day of hunger strikes for each of the 13 Gurkha Victoria Cross winners.
“We were very hopeful that the relay hunger strike would have started discussions with the Government. This has not happened. That is why the relay hunger strike has ended today. Now we are compelled to start the hunger strike until death and it will go on our just and genuine demands are fulfilled” said Kandangwa.
The Ministry of Defence said: “Gurkha terms and conditions have always been fair. They have reflected the environment that the Gurkhas were in, and they have changed and improved over time to reflect the Gurkhas’ changing circumstances.”
However, many believe the measures to protect the Gurkhas’ well-being do not go far enough. Despite the progress that was made by Joanna Lumley’s campaign in 2009, which saw Gurkhas who had retired before 1997 win UK settlement rights, many issues remain unresolved.
One of those issues is the law which sees Gurkhas’ adult children unable to settle in the UK. Another is the lack of access to free medicine in Nepal where, according to Kandangwa, veterans struggle to afford even basic medicines such as paracetamol.
Others, such as hunger-striker activist Bobbi Wason, go as far as to say that the Gurkhas, who come from Nepal and northern India, should be awarded British citizenship.
She said: “For their tireless and loyal service to Great Britain the Gurkhas are owed a debt of gratitude. We need justice for the Gurkhas.”