Gurkha hunger strike: what is a Gurkha, pensions strike explained - and will Downing Street protest work?
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On Tuesday (17 August), the Support Our Gurkhas protesters had reached their 11th day of not eating.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman was asked whether any talks were planned after the protesters said they would end their hunger strike if a meeting was arranged.
He said: “I believe the Defence Secretary said that he would be happy to meet with any Gurkha.”
The spokesman added there were “no plans” for Mr Johnson to join a meeting.
But what are the Gurkhas? And why are they striking?
Here is everything you need to know about them.
What is a Gurkha?
Around 200,000 Gurkhas, recruited from Nepal, were recruited and fought for the British Army in both world wars, and have also served in places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo, Cyprus, the Falklands, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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.
Why are they on hunger strike?
The group outside Downing Street is calling for equal pensions for Gurkhas who retired before 1997 but are not eligible for a full UK armed forces pension.
Gurkhas 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.
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 an amendment to immigration rules in 2007, backdated to July 1997, meant 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.
Dhan Gurung, 59, from Basingstoke, who has been protesting from his wheelchair in Whitehall near the gates to Downing Street, said: “When I retired from the British Army, my pension was £20 a month, whereas my British counterpart received £400 or more.
“What a trick by the Government; it makes me hurt still.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News on Friday (13 August): “I am very happy to meet any Gurkha. My father fought alongside the Gurkhas in Malaya in the 1950s, it is a pretty remarkable group of people.
“The group of people currently protesting are groups affected by the change by the Labour government in 1997 to 2003. This was about people who are under a 1947 pension, it is a very small group of Gurkha pensioners, they had different advantages in their pension scheme in that old scheme.
“That scheme said that you got it after 15 years when a British soldier got it after 22, but there is a difference and they feel that difference needs to be made up.
“That is not the same as the Gurkhas of today or the Gurkhas after 2003 – they get exactly the same pensions as British serving personnel.”
Will the strike work?
On Friday (13 August), Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he was happy to meet protesters, but warned no government “of any colour” had ever made retrospective changes to pensions like the ones the demonstrators are calling for.
Actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley urged the Government on Saturday to meet the “brave and loyal” veterans “to address the injustices highlighted”.
The 75-year-old, who in 2009 led a campaign to allow Gurkhas settlement rights in Britain, was born in India and moved to England as a child. Her father was a major in the Gurkha Rifles.
“Only a deep sense of injustice could drive these brave and respectful souls to this point,” the Absolutely Fabulous actress said.
“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.”
The Gurkhas have said more will join their protest if calls for pension equality go unanswered.
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