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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 19:29 GMT 20:29 UK
Gurkhas sue over race 'bias'
Courts generic image
The Gurkhas are renowned for their fierce fighting
A group of former Gurkhas is suing the government for racial discrimination.

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

They are being represented by Cherie Booth QC, the Prime Minister's wife.

We want recognition that we have fought loyally as British soldiers

Padam Gurung

The Nepalese brigade, famed for its bravery, is launching a human rights challenge at the High Court in London on 8 May.

Their lawyers will present 20 test cases, but they claim 30,000 former Gurkhas 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 Triparite 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.

Test cases

Padam Gurung, president of the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen Association, said today: "The Gurkhas have been loyal servants of the British for 196 years, and have lost between 50,000 and 60,000 lives.

"All we ask is not to be treated as inferior human beings and to suffer discrimination.

"We want recognition that we have fought loyally as British soldiers and demand only the same rights.

"We hope the UK Government will now listen to our case but we are not afraid to seek justice in the courts."

Cherie Booth
Cherie Booth is representing the Gurkhas

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.

The test case applications will first go before a judge within the next few weeks to decide whether the Gurkhas have an "arguable case".

The MoD said Gurkha pensions are 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.

Mrs Blair is a senior barrister or Queen's Counsel who made her name in employment law but now specialises in human rights abuses.

It is not the first time she had fought her husband's government.

In May 2000 she tackled the government over the issue of job leave for parents of young children. That case is before the European Court.

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