Debt of honour

The struggle the British Gurkhas have been running for the past several years for equality of treatment with their British counterparts has paid dividends. As part of its effort to address their demands, the British government has significantly increased their pension. Their pension had been very low indeed. The London High Court’s decision two days ago (Sept. 30) that recognised the right of former Gurkha soldiers who retired before 1997 to settle in Britain today marks a high point in the Gurkhas’ pursuit of justice. Until now, only the Gurkhas who retired after 1997, when their base shifted from Hong Kong to England, had an automatic right to settle in Britain. Gurkhas had appealed this government cut-off date, claiming that it was discriminatory. The court verdict will make 2,000 Gurkha soldiers and their families eligible for British citizenship.

The verdict is based on common sense and fairness principle. On the one hand, it respects the huge contributions of Gurkha veterans to the security of Britain and its possessions for many decades, and on the other hand, it removes the awkwardness of the existing legal provision, which should now give the British government itself a sense of relief. This is also because all other foreign soldiers in the British army have a right to settle in Britain after serving it for four years anywhere in the world. The Gurkha component has strengthened Nepal-Britain relationship, whatever the circumstances under which the practice started. No doubt, the Gurkha recruitment has given thousands of Nepalis jobs. This does not, however, take away from the merit inherent in the view that it is better for the Nepali youths to serve Nepal instead of foreign armies. But, for that to happen, proper conditions need to be created first.

Undoubtedly, the Gurkha soldiers, known worldwide for their courage, bravery and loyalty, have always given more to host governments than they have taken from them. So, the return on investment for the hosts has been quite attractive. Around 200,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain in the two World Wars, and some 3,500 now serve in the British army, including in troubled spots Iraq and Afghanistan. They have given their blood, sweat and tears for the sake of host nations. For Britain alone, more than 45,000 Gurkha soldiers have laid down their lives. Reputed to be among the most ferocious of fighters in the world, the Gurkhas are often sent to serve in the most difficult of wars and terrain, and they have never belied the trust reposed in them. The “moral debt of honour” and gratitude that Britain has to the Gurkhas for their long military service, to quote judge Nicholas Blake’s words, are apt expressions of tribute to the warriors from Nepal. What must not be forgotten is the emotional

bond the ordinary British people have with the Gurkhas, as a “torrential outpouring of affection

and concern” demonstrated by them during the two-year legal battle attests. The British government should now implement the judicial decision speedily, and move on to set right other discriminatory practices that may remain. The Gurkhas, it can well be expected, will make as loyal citizens of Britain as they have been as soldiers.