In June 1944 Tul Bahadur Pun showed the courage and determination that has earned Nepal’s Gurkha soldiers the title Bravest of the Brave. When Tul Bahadur’s platoon was attacked and nearly wiped out by a Japanese fortified position in Burma, he charged the bunker singlehandedly and captured it, turning the machine guns on the fleeing Japanese until relieved.
For his action Tul Bahadur was awarded a Victoria Cross, England’s equivalent to the US Congressional Medal of Honor. He was also invited to Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation and had tea with the Queen Mother. But three years ago when he applied for permission to live in Britain for health reasons he was refused.
Gurkhas are volunteers from Nepal who typically serve career-length terms in the British Army. (There is also a large Gurkha contingent serving with the Indian Army and smaller ones in Brunei and in the Singapore police.) Gurkhas have served England since 1815 and been essential to the British army since the mid-1800s. After WWII all British Gurkhas were based in Hong Kong; since the turnover of that territory to China in 1997 they have been based in Britain. There may be as many as 100,000 ex-Gurkhas, and Tul Bahadur was hardly the first to apply for residence or the first to be denied.
In 1980 Britain granted right of residence to all retired foreign soldiers except Nepalis. Since then there have been protests from retired Gurkhas supported by British celebrities, most notably actress Joanna Lumley, whose father’s life was saved by Tul Bahadur. In 2004 Britain’s labour government conceded part of the demand and allowed Gurkhas discharged after 1997 the right to settle in the UK, since all of them had been based there at some time.
That left Tul Bahadur and many other ex-Gurkhas out – some 36,000 have been denied residency based on the 1997 cutoff. Tul Bahadur filed suit and won in 2007: the court cited the extraordinary circumstances and chided the government for not using its discretionary power to approve the application. In September 2008 a much broader suit also went against the government when the London High Court sent the Gurkha policy back for review.
Another government loss in parliament last month signaled the end of discriminatory treatment for Nepal’s Gurkhas. Today’s reversal of the policy allows all ex-Gurkhas with four or more years of service to apply for permanent residence in the UK. It took a long time, but Tul Bahadur must be pleased.
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.