Gurkhas - a lost generation

Gurkhas - a lost generation


A group of brightly dressed Nepalese women stride past a discount store in the English army town of Aldershot.

The somewhat run-down area has in recent years become home to many veterans from the famous Brigade of Gurkhas, a force recruited in Nepal which has fought for Britain for almost 200 years. But though they have been a part of the country's army, many elderly ex-Gurkhas, along with their families, struggle to adapt to British life.

. Aldershot, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Seventy-two-year-old retired captain Birbahadur Thapa is one of many former Gurkhas who were able to move to England after 2009, following a successful campaign spearheaded by actress Joanna Lumley to give all members of the brigade with at least four years service the right to settle in Britain.

Arriving in the country has been easier for younger veterans, who often have good English and are still at working age. But many of the older ex-Gurkhas do not speak the language and find navigating life in Britain a challenge.

"Our people, who have come here to settle, especially old people, they haven't got any relatives, they haven't got anybody, life is so tough for them," said Thapa.

. LONDON, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

The veterans' situation has helped fuel protests by a group of ex-Gurkhas, their families and supporters, who are calling for improvements to their pensions and other benefits.

After a series of 24-hour fasts by demonstrators, protest organiser Gyanraj Rai began an all-out hunger strike to push for their demands, which start with equal pension payments for Gurkha soldiers compared to their counterparts in other parts of the British army.

Currently, many Gurkhas draw pensions tied to the cost of living in Nepal. Others only see around a third of their service prior to 1997 counted as pensionable, meaning they also receive lower monthly pay-outs than British equivalents.

But the Ministry of Defence said the Gurkhas' pension arrangements are fair, having withstood three judicial reviews over the last decade, and that Gurkhas have benefitted from being able to receive pensions at an earlier age than their British counterparts.

. ALDERSHOT, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Tikendra Dal Dewan is a retired major and chairman of the British Gurkha Welfare Association, a group which is bringing a case calling for equal Gurkha pensions to the European Court of Human Rights.

"This older generation that come here, sadly some of them have come directly from the villages and they have not even seen a gas cooker, it's that extreme," he said.

"If you just take a ride round Aldershot, you can see so many Gurkhas just walking around like lost souls."

. GURUNG, Nepal. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Bhim Prashad Gurung is a retired Gurkha who chose to stay in Nepal.

Gurkha protesters say that current pensions do not stretch far enough in the Asian country, causing veterans come to Britain to make use of benefits like the National Health Service, which are not available to them at home.

Gurkha pensions are index-linked to that cost of life in Nepal, and William Shuttlewood, director of the Gurkha Welfare Trust charity, contends that they can already provide "very good standard of living" there.

Gurung disagrees. He receives a pension of around £350 a month, which he says would not be enough without extra income that he makes from a rice field.

"In Nepal it is not a lot of money, but it is just surviving you know," he said.