Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Gurkhas, Justice and a National Embarrassment

It’s hard to be anything but disgusted with the British government’s attitude to the Gurkha’s and the pension row. The history of the Gurkas as fighting men in the pay of Britain goes back a long - Gurkhas served as troops under contract to the East India Company. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Gurkhas fought on the British side, and became part of the British Indian Army on its formation. The 2nd Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) made a particularly notable contribution during the conflict, and indeed twenty-five Indian Order of Merit awards were made to men from that regiment during the Siege of Delhi. Their exploits and courage are of course legendary - the Gurkha momument in London pictured left.

From the end of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 until the start of the First World War the Gurkha Regiments saw active service in Burma, Afghanistan, the North-East and the North-West Frontiers of India, Malta (the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78), Cyprus and Malaya. Naturally, as I hope most people know, the Gurkha’s were of course on the front line in WW1 (200,000 served with 20,000 casualties), WW2 and the Falklands among other recent conflicts. A Gurkha light infantry group pictured left about 1890.

For the purposes of this blog it’s worth remembering that the Gurka’s also saw active service in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 (Gurkhas in China are pictured left) and Tibet during Younghusband's bloody Expedition of 1905. I’m not going to argue whether or not any of the wars above were politically acceptable – the Gurkha’s were a key part of the military arm of the British Empire obviously. Still, the current (and long running – all my life as far as I can remember) row about why Gurkhas receive smaller pensions than their British equivalents sticks in the throat as fundamentally unfair, racist and a prime example of petty government penny saving.

There is a campaign currently running to support Gurkhas and pressure the UK government into giving more help and equal treatment to Gurkhas, called Gurkha Justice that has caught the public’s imagination and widespread support. A motion was voted on in the House of Commons on the 29th April 2009 by the Liberal Democrats that all Gurkhas be offered an equal right of residence in the UK. This resulted in a defeat for the Government by 267 votes to 246, the first, first day motion defeat for a government since 1978. The Commons vote is not binding, but it represents an embarrassment for the government. Yet Phil Woolas, the immigration minister (and, as I well remember a nasty little self-centred careerist when he was head of the National Union Students in my college days - a real horrible little greasy pole climber who obviously hasn't changed one jot) continues to prevaricate and pettifog.

If you want to support the campaign for full Gurkha Justice – on their site you can sign the petition calling calling on the UK Government to act immediately to change the law to allow all retired Gurkhas the right to stay in the UK, without reservation. (By the way if you sign the online petition you subsequently get a thank you email from none other than Joanna Lumley, which for all Englishmen of a certain age is rather thrilling!)


Jin Yang said...

sorry but thats not gurkha pic.

they looks more like rajputs..

cheerz fo articles.

Paul French said...

that's what I thought too - but they're on the British army's Gurkha regiment web site so they should know I guess!

Anonymous said...

I believe after reading your article, with fewer I's in it than any Obama speech. My first thought is someone does not play well with others. And my second thought is the same.

Biber said...

I came across a nice quote while re-reading Randall Gould's great China memoir China in the Sun the other day. Gould was a veteran member of the old China press corps before the war.

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