Gurkha calls off hunger strike after MPs launch inquiry
21st November 2013
A former Gurkha has ended a 14-day hunger strike after a group of MPs announced plans to hold an inquiry into Gurkha pensions and other issues. Gyanraj Raj has been camped out on Whitehall since 7 November, threatening to starve himself to death. Mr Rai said his experience was "so hard, so difficult", and cautioned: "We are yet to win". The actress and advocate of Gurkhas' rights Joanna Lumley presented him with a glass of fruit juice to loud cheers. She said it was "a happy day for all concerned" and told the Gurkhas "everything that you want to say will be heard as a matter of extreme importance and urgency". She added she felt sure "nothing is going to be swept under the carpet".
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gurkha Welfare is expected to begin taking evidence before March 2014 and will publish a report "shortly afterwards". The MPs will consider not only pensions, but also healthcare, benefits and what are seen as historic grievances. The government has said that all departments will co-operate fully with the inquiry.
A spokesman for the government said it had been "concerned about the welfare of Mr Raj" and it was "glad" that he has ended his action. The inquiry is understood to have the prime minister's support, it is hoped the move will help reassure around 1,000 former Gurkhas who took part in a demonstration in London earlier this month in support of Mr Rai, who is a veteran from the Nepalese Brigade. Currently, Gurkha veterans only get a third of that received by their former British comrades. Campaigners say changes to veterans' payments would allow many elderly ex-soldiers to return home to Nepal. Conservative chair of the all-party group, Jackie Doyle-Price, said there were "some outstanding grievances which the Gurkhas are determined to have addressed" and the inquiry would give them the chance to be heard publicly.
The Ministry of Defence says conditions of service have always been fair, reflecting the environment Gurkhas live in.