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Wednesday, 8 May, 2002, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Gurkhas launch pension battle
!st Battalion Royal Gurkhas in Kosovo, 1999
Gurkhas are Nepalese soldiers attached to the Army
A group of former Gurkhas have begun an action at the High Court on Wednesday to sue the government for alleged racial discrimination.

The elite troops claim their pensions are below those of all other British troops in an action that could cost the Ministry of Defence 2m.

Their legal team, which is led by Cherie Booth QC, the prime minister's wife, lodged documents on Wednesday which will be go before a judge in the next few weeks to decide if they have a case.

The ministry says pensions and conditions of service have improved in recent years.

The majority of Gurkhas we are talking about are living under dire poverty

Gopal Siwakoti Chintan
Gurkhas' lawyer

But the Gurkhas' lawyers are planning to present 20 test cases, claiming 30,000 Nepalese retired from the service with inadequate or no pension and widows have not been properly compensated for their loss.

They will argue that since the 1947 Tripartite Agreement between India, Nepal and the UK, the Gurkhas have been linked to the Indian Army's pay scale instead of the British army's.

They say this has resulted in a disparity between British pensions and those paid to the Gurkhas, who have fought loyally for the British for almost 200 years.

'Demanding equality'

Padam Gurung, president of the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen Association, said through an interpreter on the Law Courts steps: "We have been struggling for six years making peaceful demands for equal treatment, but we have not been listened to by the British Government.

"Our demands are basically for equality of treatment with other British soldiers in terms of pay and pensions and treatment of our families."

Speaking at a press conference later on Wednesday he added: "It's not only about money but status. Gurkhas have fought around the world for the British.

The press conference was organised by Phil Shiner, a solicitor with Public Interest Lawyers.

He said: "The Gurkhas have been discriminated against by the British for years and treated disgracefully.

'Colonial racism'

"They are paid less, have much smaller pensions, less prospects of promotion and worse redundancy terms."

He said another example was that while a British soldier could have his wife and family with him when he is posted abroad, a Gurkha is allowed only three years' family leave out of 15 years of service. "Imagine the effect this has on young married couples," said Mr

This was a clear example of "colonial racism" he said, which left many Gurkhas and their families living in dire poverty."

The men's current pension is 62.70 per month, but it is argued they need between 200 and 300 per month to live in Kathmandu.

Cherie Booth
Cherie Booth is representing the Gurkhas

The group gave an example of an 83-year-old World War II veteran who lost a leg and walks on a wooden stump, and is now living on just 25 a month.

Mr Shiner said Gurkha pensions were currently worth between a sixth and an eighth of British ones.

Gurkhas began serving the British Crown in 1815 in India, and with Indian independence in 1947 became part of the British Army.

Nearly 3,600 are serving currently, and in recent years they have taken part in British operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

Human rights

The MoD said Gurkha pensions have increased and are now roughly equivalent to a third of the pensions for British soldiers.

A spokeswoman said a pension equal to the British one would provide "phenomenal standard of living in Nepal", where it is much cheaper to live.

If the case goes to a full judicial review, the government will be up against the prime minister's wife.

Ms Booth, who specialises in human rights abuses, tackled the government over the issue of job leave for parents of young children, in May 2000.

That case is before the European Court.

The BBC's Paul Adams
"They've played critical roles in almost every conflict involving British troops since World War II"
Gopol Siwakoti Chinton, Nepalese lawyer
"Majority of the Gurkhas are living in dire poverty"
See also:

29 Apr 02 | England
Gurkhas sue over race 'bias'
19 Apr 02 | England
Gurkha loses racism case
22 Mar 02 | South Asia
Nepal court rejects Gurkha claim
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