This Is How Unlike India, The British Army Discriminates Against Its Gurkha Veterans

This Is How Unlike India, The British Army Discriminates Against Its Gurkha Veterans

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Nov 2, 2022 02:06 PM +05:30 IST
This Is How Unlike India, The British Army Discriminates Against Its Gurkha Veterans The British Gurkhas.
  • The Gurkha veterans of the British Army are fighting discrimination in pensions, medical and other welfare benefits.

    In a rare demonstration, they will give voice to their demands at London’s Trafalgar Square tomorrow.

London’s famous Trafalgar Square will witness a rare demonstration tomorrow (3 November) featuring hurt and dismayed Gurkha veterans of the British Army. 

These veterans — the ones who retired before 2006 — have faced acute discrimination by the British government despite being the spearhead of the island nation’s fighting force.

They have been receiving less than a third of the pension that their British counterparts get, and none of the medical and other welfare benefits that the British veterans enjoy. 

Till 2007, Gurkha soldiers in the British Army also used to get a fraction of the pay and allowances that their non-Gurkha counterparts in uniform were drawing. And they were barred from settling down in the UK after retirement. 

This, despite a tripartite agreement between the governments of Nepal, Britain and newly-independent India in 1947 that clearly stated that Gurkha recruits in the Indian and British forces would draw the same pay, allowances and other benefits, including pension, as their Indian and British counterparts. 

The agreement was drawn in 1947 to share the Gurkha regiments in the Royal British Indian Army between Britain and India with six of the 10 Gurkha regiments at that time becoming part of the Indian Army and the remaining four joining the British Army. 

The agreement also allowed India and Britain to recruit young men from Nepal into their armies. While the Indian government has scrupulously honoured the deal and has treated recruits from Nepal at par with those from within the country, the British government has blatantly violated that agreement. 

Gurkha veterans of the British Army have been agitating for a long time for pay, pension and other benefits at par with their British counterparts. A crucial round of tripartite talks — between representatives of the Nepal and British governments and those of the veterans — will take place in London tomorrow (3 November). 

The Gurkha Satyagraha United Struggle Committee, which has been spearheading the movement for equal pay, pension and other benefits for Gurkhas in the British Army, has called on Gurkha veterans and their families to stage a demonstration at Trafalgar Square on that day. 

After the British government partially conceded to the demands of the Gurkhas in May 2007 by agreeing to treat Gurkha recruits into its army at par with British soldiers, many post-2007 veterans settled down in the UK, mostly in Hampshire county. There are about 600 veterans and their families who live in Hampshire now.

Gurkhas In British Army

Gurkhas have served in the British Army for the past 208 years. The British were highly impressed by the fighting prowess of the brave and daring Gorkhali soldiers of Nepal during the Anglo-Nepal war of 1814. 

Though Nepali forces were defeated in the fiercely-fought war, the British officers of the East India Company’s army encouraged Gorkhas to join the company’s forces. After the British government took control of the company after the 1857 sepoy mutiny, it merged the company’s forces with the Royal British Indian Army.

Gurkhas are recruited into the British Army’s Brigade of Gurkhas that comprises two battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles and small signals, engineering, logistics, training and support units.

The 1st Battalion of Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR) is based at Shorncliffe in Kent and is part of the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade while the 2nd Battalion of RGR forms the British garrison at Brunei. 

The other units of the Brigade of Gurkhas, which is headquartered at Camberley in Surrey, are the Queen's Gurkha Signals that has five squadrons, Queen's Gurkha Engineers with two squadrons, 10th Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment with three squadrons, Gurkha Allied Rapid Reaction Corps Support Battalion (one squadron) and five smaller support companies. 

There are currently more than 4,000 Gurkhas serving in the British Army. The British Army conducts a two-stage recruitment process in Nepal, first at Pokhara and then at Kathmandu.

Tens of thousands of applicants in the 18 to 21 age group undergo gruelling physical fitness, mental alertness, medical and numeracy tests before being inducted into the British Army. 

All recruits undergo a 36 week training that includes Brigade ethos, language training, cultural training, career management and trade selection before another 26-week training in combat infantry.

Along with the British Army (BA), recruits are also selected simultaneously for induction into the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force (GCSPF).

Last year, 230 Gurkhas were recruited into the BA while 140 were recruited into the GCSPF. 

What makes the tens of thousands of young Gurkha men, mainly from the Rai, Limbu, Gurung and Magar communities, train for years to join the BA or GCSPF are the very high salaries.

While the starting salary for the Gurkha recruits in the BA is 1,200 pounds (about 1.94 lakh Nepali Rupees), that in the GCSPF is $1,400 (about 1.22 lakh Nepali Rupees). In stark contrast, the starting salary in Nepal government service is a little above 14,000 Nepali Rupees. 

Discrimination Faced By Gurkhas

Even after granting equal pay and other benefits to Gurkha recruits in the BA after May 2007, the British government has steadfastly refused to accept the plea of the pre-2007 veterans for equal pension and other benefits as their British counterparts. 

Of late, the British government has only grudgingly offered enhancement of medical and other benefits to Gurkha veterans. But it has sternly turned down the demand to bring in complete parity between the pensions given to BA’s British veterans and Gurkha veterans. This has angered and hurt the Gurkha veterans. 

There are currently about 8,000 Gurkha veterans who retired from the BA before 2007 who are being denied equal pension as the British veterans of BA. 

In March 2019, the British government offered to increase the pension of Gurkha veterans who joined the BA before 2007 by 34 per cent. But the Gurkha veterans rejected that.

“We want complete parity in pensions with our British counterparts. This discrimination perpetrated on us for the past 208 years (since 1814) has to end,” said London-based Krishna Ruchhenbung Rai who is leading the fight for justice and equality for BA’s Gurkha veterans. 

Stark Contrast With Gorkhas In Indian Army

In stark contrast, Gorkha recruits in the Indian Army are treated exactly at par with all other Indian recruits and given the same pay, allowances and other benefits, including career advancement opportunities. 

After retirement from the Indian Army, Gorkha recruits from Nepal have the option of settling down in India with their families and are given Indian citizenship. 

Also, in stark contrast to the BA, Gorkhas in the Indian Army often rise up the ranks to become JCO (junior commissioned officers) and even commissioned officers. A number of serving officers in the Indian Army are children of Gorkha veterans who were recruited from Nepal. 

There are currently seven Gorkha regiments with 39 battalions in the Indian Army.

The  1st Gorkha Rifles (also called the Malaun Regiment) has six battalions, the 3rd Gorkha Rifles (3 GR) has five battalions, 4th Gorkha Rifles comprises five battalions, the 5th Gorkha Rifles has six battalions, the 8th Gorkha Rifles has six battalions, the 9th Gorkha Rifles has five battalions while the 11th Gorkha Rifles has six battalions. 

All the GR battalions have taken active part in all conflicts and operations by the Indian Army and have won many battle and peacetime honours. 

There are over 30,000 recruits from Nepal who are currently serving in the Indian Army. Apart from them, Gorkha-speaking citizens of India are recruited into the Gorkha Rifles. There are over 1.3 lakh Indian Army veterans living in Nepal and they draw pensions from the Indian Army.

(Read about Gurkhas of Nepal aspiring to join the British Army here)

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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