Actress Joanna Lumley was the main and most visible force behind the Gurkha Justice Campaign which successfully fought for all ex-Gurkhas who served in the British army to have the right to settle in the UK. Until very recently, only Gurkhas who had served in the army after 1997 (when the Gurkhas began to be stationed in the UK rather than in Hong Kong) could apply for settlement in the UK.
Those Gurkhas who retired prior to this date could not settle in the UK, since they were deemed to have no ‘ties to the UK. I have explained this in greater detail in my earlier post here.
After British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced in the House of commons that all ex-Gurkhas who have served more than 4 years in the British Army will have the right to settle in the UK, Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, made a statement to the effect that the Nepalese government ought to honour Joanna Lumley with the highest civilian award for winning the ex-Gurkhas their residency rights. You can find full details of Zed’s demand in this report.
Zed’s statement has me flummoxed. Let’s take another look at the Gurkha Justice Campaign and Lumley’s achievement. The Gurkhas are Nepalese nationals who opt to serve (and even die for) a foreign country. Notwithstanding the historic ties between Gurkhas and UK, it must be admitted that the Gurkhas choose to join the British army mainly because of the lack of opportunities in Nepal. On retirement, many of them would like to settle in the country they have served, for reasons which can only be described as a mix of sentiment and convenience.
It cannot be denied that the UK offers ex-Gurkhas a better standard of living and social welfare benefits than Nepal. Lumley has performed yeoman service for the Gurkhas cause by embarrassing the British government into changing its original stance and giving settlement rights to all ex-Gurkhas. However, it must be admitted that the ex-Gurkhas are not doing Nepal any service by settling in the UK after their retirement from the British armed forces.
If the ex-Gurkhas were to spend their retirement in Nepal, they will draw their British army pensions in Nepal and contribute to the Nepalese economy. Why then should the Nepalese government honour Lumley? If it were to do so, it would in effect be admitting that it is unable to provide adequate opportunities to its citizens, and that due to the lack of infrastructure and social welfare benefits in Nepal, Nepalese citizens prefer to settle in the UK. All of which are true, but no sovereign government can be or should be asked to admit the same.
Zed’s demand brings to my mind the Indian government’s behaviour when trying to obtain compensation for the victims of the Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal.
Instead of moving the courts in India for compensation, the Indian government filed a claim in the courts of New York. In order to justify the filing of the claim in New York, the Indian government got an affidavit from renowned academic Marc Gallanter to the effect that Indian courts are inefficient and slow and that only the courts of New York could provide an adequate and fair remedy to the gas leak victims.
Union Carbide in turn got affidavits from two eminent Supreme Court lawyers who said that though Indian courts are normally slow and inefficient, they are capable of speedy action in special cases. The New York court decided in favour of Union Carbide and (rightly in my opinion) threw out the Indian government’s claim saying that the claims ought to be decided by Indian courts.