The UK Government had already granted the right of settlement and equal pensions to those Gurkha soldiers serving in the British Army after 1997. The Gurkha veterans’ campaign was to provide settlement rights and equal pensions to all those Gurkha veterans who had served in the British Army before 1997.
Strangely enough, when Gurkha veterans were campaigning for their rights, Joanna Lumley did not take up the Gurkha cause although her association with the Gurkhas went back a long time to the period when her father, Major James Rutherford Lumley, served with the 6th Gurkha Rifles in India, Malaysia and Hong Kong. She knew that her father’s life had been saved by a gallant Gurkha soldier, Tul Bahadur Pun, in Burma during World War II, who was awarded a Victoria Cross for his gallantry. She had even helped Pun get a UK settlement visa in 2007. Tul Bahadur Pun, 86, is currently living in the UK.
Peter Carroll, a Councillor in Folkstone, who had been helping the Gurkha veterans’ campaign since 2003, founded the Gurkha Justice Campaign. In 2008, he asked Joanna Lumley to help after Annie Watsham made the suggestion while he was gathering signatures for a petition. Joanna’s entry definitely helped expedite the Gurkha campaign. With her persistent and deft campaigning the UK Government soon relented and, on 21st May 2009, all Gurkha veterans who had served for more than 4 years in the British Army before 1997 were granted the right to settle in the UK.
After their victory, Joanna said, “We owe them a debt of honour- a debt that will now be paid.” Yes, she had a personal debt of honour to pay to the Gurkhas for saving her father’s life too. If the gallant Gurkha soldier had not saved her father’s life, she would not be in this world today and the Gurkha campaign for residency rights might not have ended successfully so soon. But her father’s life was saved and she came into this world to save the Gurkhas. That’s karma. The Gurkha karma - she was destined to be their saviour.
Joanna Lumley was given a hero’s welcome during her recent visit to Nepal. She has been accepted and embraced as a “daughter of Nepal” by the people of Nepal. She has been hailed as a “goddess” and a tribute befitting a goddess has been bestowed upon her - just south of Pokhara, a 6000-ft high holy hill at Mattikhan, where many deities are worshipped, has been named Mattikhan Lumley View after her and her father. Joanna said: “It absolutely caught my throat. It was the most moving thing in the world, to think that out here in Nepal my family, particularly my father and me as his daughter, are remembered in these hills. I cannot think of anything more beautiful. I am so moved. I thought I must not start crying.”
But she cannot sit on her laurels long now that she has urgent schemes to devise for more conquests ahead. There comes to mind a poem written by the famous American poet, Robert Frost called, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. Here are the last four lines of the poem:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Soon after the Gurkha victory for residency rights, the Government announced that it was cutting down its defence budget and 800 Gurkha soldiers of the Royal Gurkha Rifles were to be made redundant. There was a public outcry and the Government’s answer was that now a Gurkha soldier had become as expensive to keep as a British soldier. Despite the country being in the throes of recession and inflation, the Government willingly bailed out most of the biggest ailing banks in the UK which were on the verge of bankruptcy by investing billions of taxpayer’s money in them although they were the culprits who caused these economic woes.
But in the case of the Gurkha demand for equal pensions, which amounts to a paltry sum in comparison to the above investment, the Government is reluctant to pay them what is rightfully theirs although thousands of Gurkhas fought and died for the imperialist ambitions of the British Empire, which led to political gains and economic prosperity for Britain.
The Gurkha Justice Campaign’s task ahead is challenging as well as demanding. The pension disparity and settlement rights for their dependent children over eighteen must be resolved once and for all. Joanna Lumley is an angel of deliverance for the Gurkhas. Now she has come back as “goddess” Joanna- more like Goddess Kali, a Hindu goddess of destruction- ready to wreak more havoc on the Government. The Gurkha expectations have risen. The question now is can she deliver again?
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Mr.L.B.Tapmaden is an ex-Gurkha who is now living in the UK and is interested in writing about Gurkha issues.He has an MBA degree and runs his own business in his own country Nepal.He is also a PhD candidate in Business Administration.