Lawyers representing ex-Gurkhas filed a petition at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Wednesday charging the British government with discrimination in pay and pensions against Nepali soldiers. If upheld, the 20 cases could benefit over 30,000 veterans and 6,000 Nepali widows. Compensation claims could total ?2 billion. The court will decide in the next few weeks if the Gurkhas have "an arguable case".
The Gurkhas are represented by the barrister, Cherie Booth, wife of British prime minister Tony Blair and prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba arrives in London on Saturday. Due to both reasons, the issue has received wide coverage in the British press. Booth did not appear at the press conference on Wednesday but Phil Shiner of Matrix Chambers told us Booth thinks the Gurkha case is "strong and morality is on their side".
There are about 3,400 Nepali soldiers in the British Army. Up to 60,000 have died in the past 200 years while fighting for the British in various wars. They say that while conditions have improved over the years, they are still not treated at par with British soldiers on pay, pensions and other basic rights.
The ex-Gurkhas, represented by the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen's Organisation (GAESO), say they have an air-tight case. A 1947 tripartite agreement between Britain, India and Nepal grants all soldiers equal treatment. But two days after the pact was signed British and Indian officials sat down and agreed to a bilateral deal, which is what governs payments for British Gurkhas today. Nearly 55 years later, the Gurkhas say they want to be treated equally and their sacrifices recognised.
The British government has maintained that although there are discrepancies in pays and penisons which have been narrowed, the Nepali soldiers get extended home leave and other benefits not provided to British nationals in the army.
he lawyers will try to prove that the Gurkhas are victims of racism in the military, and they base their case on four violations of the British Human Rights Act (1998):
- They are allowed to live with wives only for 3 of the 15 years of service, something that does not apply to British soldiers
- All soldiers are treated as Hindu, althoiugh there are non-Hindus in the ranks
- Promotions are racially tinged, and
- There is discrimination in pension payments.
GAESO's Padam Bahadur Gurung told us: "All we are asking is not to be treated as inferior human beings. We want recognition that we have fought loyally as British soldiers, and demand only the same rights." Many British citizens seem to agree. A former paratrooper and now Mayor of Ilafracombe, says in the 30 April issue of the Daily Mirror: "It is scandalous that these people should be treated as second class citizens."