Sunday, March 11, 2007

Nepalese Gurkhas Finally Win British Benefits (sort of)

Another loose end of empire imperfectly tied up ...

From the Associated Press: "Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who have been fighting for Britain but receiving unequal retirement benefits since the days of the British Empire will finally receive the same pensions as the rest of the army, the government said Thursday. But the change will only apply to those who retired from the army in the last 10 years, leaving many older veterans of Britain's Gurkha Brigade disappointed . . . The decision follows years of campaigning by Gurkha and British veterans who say many retired Gurkhas are destitute. Gurkhas began serving the United Kingdom in 1815 in India, and with Indian independence in 1947 became part of the British army. More than 3,300 Gurkhas are in the army and most serve in overseas operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan."

According to Peace Journalism.com, Padam Bahadur Gurung, president of the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen's Organization, said the government's decision was only a partial victory. "The dedication and loyalty of Nepali soldiers to the British Crown has been unquestionable all through history, but the issues of the Gurkhas who joined before 1997 have been ignored," he said. "The British government should justify the reasons to exclude the soldiers who retired before 1997."

During the Indian Rebellion (or "Mutiny") of 1857, Gurkhas fought on the British side. They became part of the British Indian Army when it was formed the following year. From 1858 until the start of World War I, Gurkha regiments saw action in Burma, Afghanistan, the frontiers of India, Malta, Cyprus, Malaya, China, and Tibet.

The British government's decision is praiseworthy as far as it goes and an affront to human dignity where it falls short. Note that it comes in a week full of media reports about the poor treatment given wounded British and American troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan (see here, here, and here for just a few examples). The lack of respect and appreciation shown by governments to those who willingly make sacrifices of life and limb on behalf of their countries is simply outrageous and completely indefensible.

Déjà vu
Rudyard Kipling, "Tommy," Barrack-Room Ballads, 1889-1891 (read the complete poem here)

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:

O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins,'' when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's "Thank you, Mr. Atkins,'' when the band begins to play.
. . .
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
But Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!


Shown here: A nineteenth-century Gurkha with his kukri.

Related links:

"The Battle for Parity: Victory for the Gurkhas" (Independent, 9 March)

British Gurkha Welfare Society
The Gurkha Museum

Brigade of Gurkhas--History

1 comments:

Gary Smailes said...

Over the years the Gurkha Regiments have been awarded a total 26 Victoria Cross medals. However, the fact that no Indian soldier was eligible for the medal until 1911, demonstrates the institutional inferiority that was built into the British Victorian thinking.

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