Last week, I was deeply saddened to read the KM report on how former Gurkha, Sangdup Tamang, had tragically taken his own like by stabbing himself repeatedly with his regimental Khukiri near his home in Cheriton.
The KM reported that Mr Tamang was disappointed by failing to win a full army pension and was struggling to combat throat cancer and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very sad time.
Earlier in the month, the Ministry of Defense proudly announced how General David Petraeus, commander of all international troops serving in Afghanistan had visited the 1st Battalion, the Royal Gurkha Rifles in southern Helmand.
In the very same month on the 13 October, the British High Court rejected an appeal led by the British Gurkha Welfare Society and so refused equal pension payments for Gurkha veterans who retired before July 1, 1997, when the Gurkha headquarters were moved from Hong Kong to Britain.
The ruling leaves some 36,000 veterans being paid a third of the pension that Gurkha veterans who retired after the 1997 cut-off date receive, which is on a par with that received by their British colleagues.
Mr. Tamang’s pension may have been a decent sum in rural Nepal but it would not have gone very far in downtown Cheriton.
I do not know the details of poor Sangdup Tamang's death and we should not jump to conclusions but these stories highlight how politicians are always much more eager to throw troops into dangerous conflicts than they are to look after them on their return
How sad and ironic that while the Gurkhas were being commended for defending British interests in one of the toughest combat zones on the planet, one of their proud veterans was taking his own life in a back alley in Kent.
Anyone in the ex-service community knows that there are only a few regiments sent to the most challenging combat zones. When you see that the Royal Marines, the Parachute Regiment and the Ghurkas are being used on a mission, the chances are that it is a pretty impossible one, with a fair chance of intensive fighting at close quarters.
About 200,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain in World Wars I and II, and more than 45,000 have died in British uniform. They served in Burma, Malaya, Cyprus, the Falklands, Iraq and around 3,500 now serve in the British Army; many of these are deployed in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately their bravery and sacrifice have never been adequately rewarded by the establishment. Indeed many would argue privately that the Gurkhas have been treated like rubbish and discriminated against for decades.
An immigration officer in the Home Office once confessed to me that he was under government pressure to single out Gurkha families in Kent for instant repatriation to meet government targets. Apparently, unlike most illegal immigrants Gurkha families worked hard, paid taxes and had a fixed address so were easy to process for removal.
Most of us are familiar with the victory in the campaign led by Joanna Lumley to win all ex-Gurkhas the right to residency in the UK. How we enjoyed watching her run rings around that dreadful drip of a government minister, Phil Woolas, who many would have been happy to see expatriated in exchange for any ex Gurkha. Most agree it was a victory for common sense and justice but few are aware of the secondary problems this victory created.
Charity workers and caseworkers on the ground working for organizations like SSAFA Forces Help have been privately worried about the Gurkha situation for some time now. Following the landmark victory by Joanna Lumley and her supporters last year, many retired Gurkha solders have been traveling from Nepal to the UK with their families to take advantage of their well earned right to residency. For them this was a chance to live in the streets paved with gold.
Mr. Tamang was probably one of these hopeful veterans who arrived in the UK in November last year.
The problem for Mr. Tamang and his comrades was that no one in government chose to address the problems which the right to residency ruling created. Often Gurkhas borrowed large sums of money for the air fares from loan sharks at home in Nepal. Often they have no English language, no money, nor a place to stay. Many (Like Mr. Tamang) had health problems or live in overcrowded conditions with their sponsors i.e. fellow Gurkha comrades that are already here.
For the last few months armed forces charities have been rushed off their feet trying to assist these newly arrived Gurkhas with housing, welfare, health and debt issues because there was no one else to help. The Canterbury and Ashford division of SSAFA Forces Help felt it necessary to appoint a special Gurkha caseworker to specialise in this one area of welfare.
The Royal British Legion has been forced to issue food vouchers to newly arrived Ghurka families so they don’t starve to death.
Hardly the way to treat heroes.