The reputation is solid. Redoubtable elite fighters, men of honor who command respect to enemy troops, the Nepalese Gurkhas are proud and maintain the legend. “I am the son of Gurkhas and I recently joined the federal army to restore democracy in Burma. I had more reasons not to enlist than to do so. I led a comfortable life. Today, I go days without lunch, wearing an old shirt soaked in tears and shoes that wear out a little more every day from the miles. My only reason for joining the army was to defend the heritage of the Gurkhas. To remain without fighting against injustice would have been a shame for the glory of the Gurkhas, ”testifies Thet, who normally works as a social worker in Australia.
According to the 1947 agreement, the Gurkhas should have enjoyed all the advantages of the British army. Their fight against discrimination has been going on for years.
Until a few months ago, the young man followed with attention the fight, carried out tens of thousands of kilometers, by the veteran Gurkhas of the British army, retired before 1997, for pensions equal to those of their brothers of weapons. This date was not chosen at random: it was that of the handover of Hong Kong to China, on July 1, 1997, which forced the British Ministry of Defense to repatriate Gurkhas headquarters to France, forcing by even there to reassess the terms and conditions of service, the differences in treatment becoming difficult to justify within the same barracks.
In August, the oldest veterans of Nepalese origin went on a thirteen-day hunger strike in front of the residence of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 10 Downing Street, to obtain the revaluation of their survivor’s pension estimated 300 times lower. to that of former British soldiers. “We want to be treated as equals on all fronts. We are ready to die for that ”, then delivered Gyanraj Rai, one of the actors of the movement, to the BBC. It mischievously echoed the famous phrase of former Indian Army Marshal Sam Manekshaw: “If a man says he’s not afraid to die, he’s either lying or he’s a Gurkha.” »At the end of this movement and of a petition signed by a hundred thousand people, they obtained an examination of this question by the Parliament. Like the African riflemen in France, there is, in the perpetuation of these discriminations, all the weight of the colonial heritage.
August 30, 1962, during a nuclear exercise in the United Kingdom. They will participate in all conflicts: the Falklands, Kosovo, Afghanistan … © Keystone-France / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
20,000 wounded during the great war
From the unequal Treaty of Sugauli, which in 1815 ratified the hold of the British East India Company over Nepal and punished the uprising of the Gurkhas, London allowed itself to tap into the minority to perpetuate its domination on the subcontinent. . Originally from the highlands of the Himalayas, the Gurkhas constitute an inexhaustible reservoir for suppressing mutinies, including the famous sepoy revolt in 1857, considered the founding act of the Indian War of Independence. Often sent to the front line, armed with the traditional broad-bladed knife, the khukuri, they would also have counted 20,000 wounded in their ranks during the First World War.
This is the total number of Bravery Decorations bestowed by London on Gurkha soldiers.
In the following conflict, they fight Nazi Germany in Italy and the Japanese occupier in Burma. After the partition of India in 1947, an agreement between Nepal, India and the former colonial power made it possible to keep Gurkha regiments in the British army and within the Indian army. Falklands, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq: the Nepalese fighters act in all the modern wars which engage the United Kingdom. Serving in the Singapore police force, they also shone in providing security during the last summit between former President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un in 2018.
According to the 1947 agreement, the Gurkhas should have enjoyed all the advantages of the British army. Their fight against discrimination has been going on for years. They were rejected for the first time by the courts in 2003, a 2007 judgment grants them a partial victory since only soldiers still in service and those who retired after 1997 can benefit from the same advantages as British military personnel. In London, the authorities explain this difference by the fact that the Gurkhas can retire after fifteen years of service against twenty-two for their counterparts. But the argument does not hold for families: “My father served as a soldier for twenty-seven years, but only receives a pension for fourteen years of service because of an unfair pension plan. That is to say thirteen years of service lost ”, explains, on Twitter, Lex Limbu, son of a fighter living in London.
The fate of these soldiers has for years sparked heated debates in Nepal over the denunciation of the 1947 agreement. When they seized power in Kathmandu, the Maoists tried to put an end to the incorporation of the Gurkhas into foreign armies. , considered as a colonial vestige “humiliating”, in the words of the former Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who intended to facilitate their reconversion.
Echo of the Senegalese tirailleurs
Only, even unequal, pensions remain higher than those to which they could claim in Nepal. In this totally landlocked country which has not yet recovered from the deadly 2015 earthquake, 40% of the population is unemployed. A situation which makes it possible to perpetuate inequalities of treatment. “Your government has the power to change the law, invoking British humanitarian responsibility and giving these men the respect of a nation and, simply, the dignity they deserve,” wrote in 2007 to the former – Prime Minister Tony Blair, the French director Rachid Bouchareb whose film “Indigènes” had contributed to the revaluation of the pensions of the riflemen of the Second World War. Thirteen years later, justice has still not been served.