Commentary: FALKLANDS AND THE GURKHA ISSUE (Satis Shroff)
Twenty seven years ago, the British and the Argentineans fought over the Falkland Islands and turned, the otherwise peaceful and serene South Atlantic into an inferno. The Malvinas were claimed by the Argentineans and the British. Nurse Nicci Pugh was a witness to the hostilities from a safe distance on board the hospital ship HMS Uganda. The conflict began on April 2,1982 after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Britain’s PM Margaret Thatcher sent a task force which resulted in the death of 1,000 people, after which the Falklands (Malvinas) were liberated on June 14, 1982.
Much like Florence Nightingale, who left England on October 21,1854, and started caring for the wounded soldiers at Scutari, Turkey, on November 5,1854, and took a large group of women as nurses (38 women, including 18 Anglican and Roman Catholic sisters), Nicci Pugh was one of 40 nursing officers on board the hospital ship Uganda. Ms. Pugh’s job was x-ray units to provide modern hospital care facilities for the injured British Tommies, civilians and also possible Argentinean soldiers wounded in the conflict. In the ship were operating theatres, 120 beds, burn-units, labs, x-ray units, a blood bank, in addition to a helipad. The Uganda was anchored a mile south-west of San Carlos Water, where there was heavy fighting. With the knowledge that hospital ships had been sunk in previous wars through shelling or torpedoes, the ladies had to go through the angst of being bombed by the Argentinean aircraft which frequently made sorties over the Royal Navy armada.
The British staff on board the Uganda have gone on record as having treated 700 patients. Among the patients were also injured Argentinean soldiers. It might be mentioned that the ship HMS Sir Galahad was shit by enemy fire, whereby 120 patients were treated in the burns unit on board the Uganda. Some 500 surgical operations were performed. Most of the injuries were caused by gunshot, shrapnel and mortar. Amputations were also carried out due to the anti-personnel mines deployed and hidden by the Argentinean soldiers. Even the injured Argentinean soldiers were treated with the same respect and dignity.
After the war, Ms. Pugh returned to her old job in Cornwall as an OP theatre nurse, but wasn’t able to talk about her experiences for years. That was her coping method. Life had to go on. But unlike the Lady with the Lamp, Nicci Pugh didn’t have to face medical ire, and works as a voluntary carer to help injured servicemen to re-visit the Malvinas to pay their respects to their own fallen comrades, and visit the killing fields of the Falklands. But for the Gurkhas who have fought for Britain since the times of Queen Victoria till Queen Elizabeth II since 200 years, there’s no noteworthy memorial in Britain. Are the Gurkhas merely guest-workers or ‘cannon fodder’ only? Britain laments that there’s no memorial for the courageous Lancaster Bomber Command which lost 55,573 out of 125,000 pilots during their deadly missions to bombard German towns and industrial complexes, collateral damage notwithstanding. But no one speaks of the courage and sacrifice of the sturdy, dedicated, loyal Gurkhas from Nepal, who laid their lives for the Glory of Great Britain, and are still doing the same for the United Kingdom. After World War I and World War II, the Gurkhas were ignominiously booked a passage to Nepal via India. Even today, instead of integration, education and service in the UK for the extraordinary service to Britain and the Queen of England since generations. They are not even tolerated when their service, i.e. unfair contract, with the Arbeitsvermittlungsagency MoD is over. The MoD is treating the Gurkhas similarly as the German government did with the so-called ‘guest workers’ from Turkey, Italy, Spain and Portugal during the fifties, only to realise that they hadn’t invited guest workers but human beings, who had families, dreams, hopes of a better quality of life, the same education as their own children. Under Angela Merkel there’s a new integration model for migrants which is showing a positive trend and in accordance with the European Union’s ideas of a better world. The Gurkhas must be given the same status as their British counterparts and comrade-in-arms, the same buying power and dignity in the United Kingdom, and the UK government would do well to put an end to the discrimination that has been meted out to the Gurkhas and their families. They must be accepted and welcomed as old and new migrants, and the UK’s loyal, historical allies, instead of being discriminated on flimsy grounds. If the Gurkhas have to go to the European court it is indeed a shame for Brown’s government, which has been trying to save precious sterling pounds on the integration of the Gurkhas and has been diverting the common man’s money for other purposes.
* * *
An e-mail from Argentina
Thanks for your message. Nice to meet you. Well you’re from Freiburg,
Regarding the Falkland war, we all Argentineans feel some kind of
In 1982, the government in Argentina was in charge of the military, people
UK hadn’t any interest on these islands, but it was like a war trophy for
The TV always reported that we were about to win the war, they
In 1982 I was just a 7 years old boy, I didn’t know what was happening
The UK military also took advantage of these events. Furthermore, a retired
Besides this, the General Galtieri, the most hated person in Argentina,
To sum up, there were many events and I could write pages and pages
Arnaldo Mariano S., Jul 6, 2007, 10:21am EDT
E-mail from Satis Shroff:
I can now understand your feelings about the Falkland War. I found your metaphor of the 5 year old boy fighting against the 15 year old a very appropriate comparison. Your story really moved me, even though I come originally from Nepal, the land of the Gurkhas.
Thank you very much for sharing a part of your autobiography. You really ought to write “pages and pages about this war” as you said, and let us read them at www.Gather.com.
I think it’s very interesting reading. For me it was a fantastic experience to hear how the people suffered and what they thought about in those days in Argentina. This helps us to understand each other.
Even a Gurkha or Nepalese and an Argentinean can be friends. I reach out my hand to you, dear Gather friend. If more Argentineans went to Nepal on their holidays to see how the Gurkhas live and what everyday problems, dreams, hopes they have, then they would be certainly friends and understand each other. Duty, obedience and discipline take on a bitter taste after the war. Many GIs visited the former battlefields (Germany, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Japan, Burma) and met their former foes, which is a good thing, for men are not murderers when they are forced to do their duty as soldiers.
In Nepal there’s no compulsory military service. The Gurkhas are professional soldiers because they never had someone to motivate them and pay their school, college and university bills. If someone is ill, one goes to the local shaman (dhamey-jhakri) for he can be paid with some eggs and a chicken. Money is scarce in the hills of Nepal. That’s why the Nepalese youth from the hills join the Gurkhas. Many are school drop-outs but many can’t afford to go to school. They have to do child-work in their parents’ farms in the terraced, craggy hills of this beautiful Himalayan country.
That’s life, Arnaldo. Let us nevertheless try to make this world a better place to live in, despite our cultural differences.
Satis Shroff, Jul 6, 2007, 11:13am EDT
News: Brown’s government: arrogant & indifferent to the Gurkhas
Former Gurkha soldiers from Nepal have won the right to sue the British Government in the High Court for alleged racial discrimination. The Gurkhas allege that they have been discriminated against in at least 20 different ways while serving with the British army and subsequently during retirement.
Lawyers for the troops filed a claim for damages at the High Court in May in an action that could cost the Ministry of Defence £2bn. Their case is to be argued by Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie Booth, a prominent barrister.
Nepalese soldiers have fought alongside British soldiers since 1815, and have served in recent years in the Falklands, the Gulf War, Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.
Equal pay demand: The soldiers argue that since a 1947 Tripartite Agreement between India, Nepal and the UK, the Gurkhas have been linked to the Indian Army’s pay scale instead of the British army’s.
They say this has resulted in a disparity between British pensions and those paid to the Gurkhas, Phil Shiner, a solicitor with the Public Interest Lawyers group which is acting for the Gurkhas, said they were hoping for a decision from the High Court before Christmas.
“So far, this government has acted with arrogance and indifference,” he was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.
“I hope even at this late stage that sense will prevail.”
In declaring the case admissible on Tuesday, the High Court gave the Defence Ministry until 9 September to put forward its arguments in the case.
British defence: A Defence Ministry spokeswoman told Reuters that the military would “robustly defend our position in court”.
“The Gurkhas are treated well and will continue to be. We value their services and treat them in a good manner,” she said.
But the Gurkhas’ lawyers say they have 20 test cases, claiming that 30,000 Nepalese retired from the service with inadequate or no pension, and that widows had not been properly compensated for their loss. Aside from financial complaints, they say they have been subjected to different rules on family leave, food, dress codes and religious practices.
It is not the first time that Ms Booth, who specialises in human rights abuses, has tackled her husband’s government in court. In May 2000, she argued on behalf of trade unions that the government needed to offer more leave benefits to parents of young children.
Gurkhas, Welcome to the UK 200 Years Later (Satis Shroff)
Recently, I was surprised to receive an e-mail from 10 Downing Street. It was Gordon Brown. Tears ran down my cheeks as I read the happy news that he’d capitulated in the olde bureaucratic fight against the Gurkhas. It had been MoD against the Gurkhas. I remember having signed petitions addressed to the PM in the internet, having moblised the Gurkhas in Darjeeling Forum’s ‘Gupsap’ under Swaroop Chamling, the Gurkhas.com and its excellent team’s discussions and petition, on Gather.com and The American Chronicle and its syndicate of 21 newspapers in the USA, wordpress.com and other websites like Google’s Blogspot.com. We kept the Gurkha themes circulating in the media: in Nepal, UK, Hong Kong and around the world. And it worked. Gurkha veterans can now stay on in Great Britain, get benefits from the NHS and a solid pension so that they can live decently like everyone in the UK.
In this connection, the actress Joanna Lumley has played a pivotal role and has helped put the Gurkhas where they really belong: in the hub of the UK, not as underdogs of the British society but as proud winners in the UK’s prosperity and progress as a nation, for the Gurkhas have fought for the Royals and the MoD for 200 years. Alone in the World War I and II more than 50,000 Gurkhas fell under the Union Jack.
The most wonderful news was that Joanna Lumley managed to get even Gordon Brown’s very own people from the Labour Party to vote for the Gurkhas. The best part of it was the way she managed to get the State Secretary to concede to her arguments right in front of live cameras. He had to comply, there was no other way around.
Citizens of the UK, we, the well-wishers and friends of the brave and loyal Gurkhas, thank you and Ms. Joanna Lumley and even members of the Labour party who have risen to the occasion and shown civil courage, sense of justice for the cause of the Gurkhas. We’d also like to thank the sturdy Gurkhas for their unprecedented and excellent service to the UK. History has been written as far as the Gurkhas are concerned and it has caused ripples in the hearts of the Gurkhas and their dependants living under the shadow of the Himalayas. Great Britain, we are proud of you. You’ve shown that you can, if you really want to, bring about a change.
My lacrymal glands are still gushing as I write this for the Mother of the Gurkha soldier in Nepal, who lost her precious son, the sons and daughters who lost their Gurkha fathers in the killing fields, the Gurkha veterans in the UK, the Gurkhas currently doing service with the Brigade of the Gurkhas, and the thousands of Gurkhas who died in the past.
Gurkhas, welcome to the United Kingdom. It took 200 long years but we’ve arrived. Ayo Gurkhali, indeed. Gordon Brown is not amused but the rest of the UK is. This time, thanks to Bonnie Prince Charles and other Royals too. I often wonder why Prince Charles didn’t take the initiative earlier. He talks with his plants, he talks about the environment, he paints aquarelles of mountains and castles but he was loath to talk about the Gurkhas. Thanks to Ms. Lumley, he changed his mind. The Gurkhas and the Nepalese love him for it. Better late than never.
It was a courageous Gurkha who saved the life of Mr. Lumley’s father, and she showed her admiration and thankfulness for the Gurkhas by fighting for their rights in the United Kingdom. The Gurkhas have won new friends. The Nepalese government could reciprocate with the award of, at least, a Nepal Tara or Gurkha Dakshin Bahu First Class to Ms. Joanna Lumley, a lady with civil courage. Britain needs women like Ms. Lumley.
The Gurkhas Win, Labour Capitulates (Satis Shroff)
The Gurkhas are upon you!
This was the battle-cry
That filled the British heart
With pride and admiration,
And put the foe in fear.
Now the Gurkhas are not upon you.
They are with you,
Guarding the Queen at the Palace,
Doing security checks
And for Claudia Schiffer,
The Sultan of Brunei.
Or as the Brits prefer:
Sir Ralph Turner,
An adjutant of the Gurkhas
In World War I said:
‘Uncomplaining you endure
Hunger, thirst and wounds;
And at the last,
Your unwavering lines
Disappear into smoke
And wrath of battle.’
Another General Sir Francis Tuker
Spoke of the Gurkhas:
‘Selfless devotion to the British cause,
Which can be hardly matched
By any race to another
In the whole history of the world..
Why they should have
Thus treated us,
Is something of a mystery.’
9000 Gurkhas died
For the Glory of England,
23,655 were severely wounded
Military glory for the Gurkhas:
Mentions in despatches,
Nepal’s mothers paid dearly
For England’s glory.
And what do I hear?
The vast silence of the Gurkhas.
England had failed miserably
To match the Gurkha’s loyalty
For the British.
Faith binds humans
The Brits have shown
They have faith
In the bravery and loyalty,
Honesty, sturdiness, steadfastness
Of the Gurkhas.
Did the souls of the perished Gurkhas
Have faith in the British?
Souls of Gurkhas long dead and forgotten,
Lingered long seeking justice
At the hands of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II,
Warlords, or was it warladies,
They died for.
How has the loyalty and special relations
Been rewarded in England
Since the Treaty of Segauli
On March 4, 1816 ?
A treaty that gave the British
The right to recruit Nepalese.
When it came to her own kind,
Her Majesty the Queen
She lavishly bestowed lands,
Lordships and knighthoods
To those who served the crown well,
Added more feathers to England’s fame.
A Bombay-born Salman Rushdie
Got a knighthood from the Queen,
For his Satanic and other verses.
So did Brits who played classic and pop.
When it came to the non-British,
Alas, Her majesty feigned myopia.
She saw not the 200 years
On the part of the Gurkhas:
In the trenches of Europe,
The jungles of Borneo,
In far away the Falklands,
And war-torn Iraq.
Blood, sweat and tears,
Eking out a meagre existence
In the craggy hills of Nepal
The price of glory was high
Fighting in the killing-fields
Of Delhi, the Black Mountains,
Khyber Pass, Gilgit, Ali Masjid.
Warring against Wazirs, Masuds,
Yusafzais and Orakzais
In the North-West Frontier.
And against the Abors,
Nagas and Lushais
In the North-East Frontier.
Neuve Chapelle in France,
A hill named Q in Gallipoli.
Suez and Mesopotamia.
In the Second Word War
Battling for Britain
In North Africa, South-East Asia,
Italy and the Retreat from Burma.
The Queen graciously passed the ball
And proclaimed from Buckingham Palace:
‘The Gurkha issue
Is a matter for the ruling government.’
Thus prime ministers came and went,
Akin to the fickle English weather.
The resolute Queen remained,
The Goddess Mother of the Earth,
Above the clouds in her pristine glory,
But the Gurkha issue prevailed.
‘Draw up a date
To give the Gurkhas their due,’
Was the order from 10 Downing Street.
We can’t pay for the 200 years.
We’ll be ruined as a ruling party,
When we do that,’
Said the Labour under Gordon Brown.
A sentence like a guillotine.
Was the injustice done to the Gurkhas
Of service to the British public?
It was like adding insult
Thus Tory and Labour governments came and went,
The Gurkha injustice remained.
All Englishmen cannot be gentlemen,
England got everything
Out of the Gurkha.
Squeezed him like a lemon,
Discarded and banned
From entering London
And its frontiers,
When he developed ageing problems.
‘Go home with your pension
But don’t come back.
We hire young Gurkhas
Our NHS doesn’t support pensioned invalids.’
Johnny Gurkha wonders aloud:
‘Why they should have thus
Is a mystery.’
Till lady Joanna Lumley, Prince Charles
And even Brown’s own Labour members,
Took the matter in their hands
And gave the Gurkha veterans the right
To stay on in the UK.
Meanwhile, life in the terraced hills of Nepal,
Where fathers toil on the stubborn soil,
And children work in the steep fields
A broken, wrinkled old mother waits,
For a meagre pension
From Her Majesty’s Government,
Beyond the craggy Himalayas
Across the Kala Pani,
The Black Waters.
Faith builds a bridge
Between Johnny Gurkhas
And British Tommies,
Between Nepal and Britain.
The smart, sturdy Gurkha makes
A cheerful countenance,
An old trail song
Heard in the Himalayas.
Lyrik: A GURKHA MOTHER (Satis Shroff)
(Death of a Precious Jewel)
The gurkha with a khukri
But no enemy
Works for the Queen of England
And yet gets shot at,
In missions he doesn’t comprehend.
Order is hukum,
Hukum is life
Johnny Gurkha still dies
Under foreign skies.
He never asks why
Politics isn’t his style
He has fought against all and sundry:
Turks, Tibetans, Italians and Indians
Germans, Japanese, Chinese
Argentineans and Vietnamese.
Indonesians and Iraqis.
Loyal to the utmost
Never fearing a loss,
The loss of a mother’s son
From the mountains of Nepal.
Her grandpa died in Burma
For the glory of the British.
Her husband in Mesopotemia
She knows not against whom
No one did tell her.
Her brother fell in France,
Against the Teutonic hordes.
She prays to Shiva of the Snows for peace
And her son’s safety.
Her joy and her hope
Farming on a terraced slope.
A son who helped wipe her tears,
Ease the pain in her mother’s heart.
A frugal mother who lives by the seasons,
Peers down to the valleys
Year in and year out
In expectation of her soldier son.
A smart Gurkha is underway
Heard from across the hill with a shout
‘It’s an officer from his brigade.
A letter with a seal and a poker-face
“Your son died on duty,” he says,
“Keeping peace for the Queen of England
And the United Kingdom.”
A world crumbles down
The Nepalese mother cannot utter a word
Gone is her son,
Her precious jewel.
Her only insurance and sunshine
In the craggy hills of Nepal.
And with him her dreams
A spartan life that kills.
gurkha: soldier from Nepal
khukri: curved knife used in hand-to-hand combat
shiva: a god in Hinduism
About the Author:
Satis Shroff is a prolific writer and teaches Creative Writing at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg. He is a lecturer, poet and writer and the published author of three books: Im Schatten des Himalaya (book of poems in German), Through Nepalese Eyes (travelogue), Katmandu, Katmandu (poetry and prose anthology by Nepalese authors, edited by Satis Shroff). His lyrical works have been published in literary poetry sites: Slow Trains, International Zeitschrift, World Poetry Society (WPS), New Writing North, Muses Review, The Megaphone, Pen Himalaya, Interpoetry. He is a member of “Writers of Peace,” poets, essayists, novelists (PEN), World Poetry Society (WPS) and The Asian Writer.
Satis Shroff is based in Freiburg (poems, fiction, non-fiction) and also writes on ecological, ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes. He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Sciences in Germany and Creative Writing in Freiburg and the United Kingdom. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. Since literature is one of the most important means of cross-cultural learning, he is dedicated to promoting and creating awareness for Creative Writing and transcultural togetherness in his writings, and in preserving an attitude of Miteinander in this world. He lectures in Basle (Switzerland) and in Germany at the Akademie für medizinische Berufe (University Klinikum Freiburg) and the Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen (University of Freiburg where he is a Lehrbeauftragter for Creative Writing). Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize.