From kukri to kitchen sink

The Gurkhas' toughest mission is now economic survival. Stephen Vines reports
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The Independent Online
Former Gurkha soldiers in Hong Kong have been forced to swap their deadly kukri knives for kitchen knives as they resort to domestic jobs to supplement the meagre pensions received for service in the British Army.

The Nepalese Alien Association in Hong Kong estimates that more than 200 former soldiers are now working in the colony as domestic servants; either as cooks, gardeners or drivers.

Whereas retired British servicemen receive at least pounds 450 per month in pension payments, the former Gurkha soldiers are given just over pounds 20.

The Army insists that this is sufficient for a reasonable existence in Nepal, combined with the lump sum retirement pay of pounds 4,000, and likely savings the soldiers would have made during their service.

However, Gurkhas who have returned from Hong Kong to Nepal have had difficulty making ends meet and have sought jobs back in the colony. Most have more or less landed on their feet by signing up as security guards. This is viewed as a reasonably-paid job.

Jardine Securicor, the main employer of former Gurkhas, is cutting back its Nepali staff from 720 to 600 men because many of the big projects they were guarding no longer require their services.

Some have found employment as bodyguards to local tycoons. One very prominent businessmen, whose son was kidnapped for ransom, is said to have 20 former Gurkha soldiers on his payroll.

The Gurkhas in Hong Kong used to form the backbone of border patrols deployed to keep out illegal immigrants from China. The job was arduous and anti-social, as most patrols were out and about in the hours of darkness. Never the less, Hong Kong was a popular posting for the Nepali soldiers.

Having observed the wealth of Hong Kong from their barracks, as many as 4,000 have returned to try and secure a small slice of it for themselves. They trade on a good reputation for honesty and hard work, but this has proved insufficient to supply adequate employment.

Gurkha groups have long campaigned for equal pay with their British counterparts. Last February, the few remaining Nepali soldiers in the British forces scored a major victory by breaking historical precedent and gaining parity in remuneration. However, pension arrangements remained unchanged.

Discrimination also still applies to curbs on Gurkha soldiers living with their families. Three-quarters of those below the rank of sergeant have to live apart from their families.