Gurkhas who went on hunger strike for better pensions prepare to finally meet Ministers

Members of the Gurkha community will meet with the Ministry of Defence on Wednesday (8 September) to discuss their concerns over pensions.

Those who retired before 1997 are only entitled to around a third of the amount paid to British soldiers, who they served with.

Gurkhas who took part in a hunger strike in Downing Street are recovering at home in Reading

Last month Gurkhas from Reading and Basingstoke went on hunger strike in a long-running protest, describing it as a 'fast unto death'.

The former servicemen, and the widow of a Gurkha soldier ended a 13-day hunger strike last month after the Government agreed to enter talks with the Nepalese Embassy.

Gurkhas on their eleventh day of a hunger strike in Downing Street, London
Gyanraj Rai is recovering at home in Reading after finishing a 13 day hunger strike

Gyanraj Rai who lives in Reading has been recovering at home since the strike ended.

He has admitted that he was prepared to sacrifice his life if it meant that all Gurkhas would be treated equally.

  • Gyanraj Rai, former Gurkha soldier

Widow Puspa Rana Ghale travelled from Nepal to join the protest in central London.

Puspa Rana Ghale travelled from Nepal to join the hunger strike

The actress Joanna Lumley who led the campaign to allow Gurkhas settlement rights in Britain repeatedly called on the Government to meet with the veterans.

Those who served from 1948 to 2007 were members of the Gurkha Pension Scheme until the Labour government of the time eliminated the differences between Gurkhas' terms and conditions of service and those of their British counterparts.

Gurkha veterans protest with a hunger strike opposite Downing Street in London.

Serving Gurkhas, and those with service on or after July 1 1997, could then opt to transfer into the Armed Forces Pension Scheme.

The change was brought in after a change in immigration rules in 2007, backdated to July 1997, meant that more retired Gurkhas were likely to settle in the UK on discharge, whereas the previous pension scheme had lower rates as it had assumed they would return to Nepal where the cost of living was significantly lower.

The Gurkha men, recruited from the rugged Himalayan country of Nepal, have a reputation as hard and loyal fighters, and are known for the trademark curved kukri blades they carry sheathed on their belts.

Around 200,000 fought in both world wars, also serving in places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Cyprus, the Falklands, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gurkhas taking part in an exercise on Salisbury Plain in the 1980's

Actress Joanna Lumley led a campaign in 2009, to allow Gurkhas settlement rights in Britain. The 75-year-old was born in India and moved to England as a child. Her father was a major in the Gurkha Rifles.

Actress Joanna Lumley led a campaign in 2009, to allow Gurkhas settlement rights in Britain

Speaking during the hunger strike she said: “Seeing such brave and loyal Gurkha British Army veterans feeling they have no option but to take the drastic step of entering a hunger strike will be deeply upsetting to the vast majority of the public who understand the special place that all veterans have in our hearts, in our thoughts and the life of the nation.

“Only a deep sense of injustice could drive these brave and respectful souls to this point. At the heart of this matter is how we value those who have offered, and sometimes given, the ultimate sacrifice to protect our way of life and to keep us safe.

“I urge the Government to meet these veterans and to cut through the morass of detail surrounding the complexity of the various pension schemes and find some way to address the injustices highlighted.”

Gurkhas on their eleventh day of a hunger strike in Downing Street, London

In a statement, an MoD spokesperson said: “The UK Government is committed to providing Gurkhas a fair pension, including uplifts determined by formal review processes.

"This includes extensive consultation with Gurkha veteran groups and the government of Nepal, with more meetings scheduled next month."

“Gurkhas in service from 1997 receive exactly the same pension arrangements as other personnel. The Gurkha Pension Scheme (GPS), for those in service between 1948 and 1997, provides a competitive pension that is at least as good as those given to others with identical periods of service.”

“The GPS differs from other pension schemes but provides a positive standard of living in Nepal and is objectively fair and justified, as upheld by three Judicial Reviews since 2003, including a case that went to the European Court of Human Rights.”

“We greatly value the contribution that Gurkhas make and do not wish to see veterans undertaking such protests unnecessarily.”

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed it is keen to hold talks with the Gurkha community and officials will meet with the Nepali ambassador and the group tomorrow.