Gurkha veteran on hunger strike says he is willing to die in fight for equal pension

A Gurkha veteran who has gone on hunger strike has told Sky News he is prepared to die in his fight for an equal pension.

Speaking to Kay Burley, Dhan Gurung said he wanted Boris Johnson to meet him and his fellow protesters.

Mr Gurung, who is one of three Gurkhas currently on hunger strike opposite Number 10 Downing Street, said: “Please come here and look at us with your own eyes and then address our issues.

“Why are you keeping quiet, why don’t you want to listen?

“Our ancestors gave their lives in order to save Great Britain and now we are fighting for equal rights.”

Gurkhas are Nepalese-born soldiers who have been recruited into the British army since 1815, fighting most recently in Iraq, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia.

The soldiers were first recruited by colonial rulers in India in the 19th century as a “martial race” known for their bravery.

In 2009, following a campaign supported by the actress Joanna Lumley, all veterans who retired before 1997 with at least four years of service were allowed to settle in the UK.

According to the Support Our Gurkhas website, the hunger strikers are campaigning for equal pensions for Gurkhas who retired before 1997 and are not eligible for a full UK Armed Forces pension.

Gurkhas who served from 1948 to 2007 were members of the Gurkha Pension Scheme (GPS).

This was closed in 2007 and all serving Gurkhas or those who retired after 1 July 1997 were given the option of transferring to the Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS).

1 July 1997 is when the Gurkhas became based in the UK and no longer classified as a Far East-based force.

The GPS was based on the Indian Army model and was designed for Gurkhas retiring back to Nepal, where the cost of living is much lower than in the UK.

However, many of those Gurkhas will have taken up the right to settle in the UK following the change of policy under the Labour government in 2009.

Mr Gurung, who began his hunger strike on Saturday, added: “The British government is not addressing our issues and there is a lot of discrimination, lots of human rights violations, lower payments and a penny pinching pension. That’s why we’re here for the hunger strike.

“Hunger until the death.”

Sky News asked Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to appear on Kay Burley, but the Ministry of Defence said he was not available.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who did appear on the programme, said the Gurkhas are “fantastic soldiers” who have made a “unique contribution” to Britain.

“I think it’s very sad if they feel that they’ve been treated in this way,” he said.

Mr Kwarteng added: “For them to have come to a point where this is the decision they’ve taken and they want to pursue this path, of course that should be looked at.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “We greatly value the huge contribution Gurkhas make to the British Army and ensure they are supported with a generous pension and medical care during retirement in Nepal.

“We are committed to ensuring the Gurkha Pension Scheme is sustainable and fair alongside other UK public sector pensions.”

The exclusion of Gurkhas who served before 1 July 1997 was challenged in the courts, with the European Court of Human Rights ruling in 2016 that the move was “objectively and reasonably justified”.

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