| Gurkha soldiers who fought for the British in World War II, Hukumsing Pun(left) and Pahalman Gurung, in London. (AFP)
London, Nov. 27 (Reuters): A group of Gurkha soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II won a major victory over the British government today as a court ruled they were wrongly excluded from a special compensation payment.
“This judgment is of great importance not only to the three elderly claimants who live in Nepal but also for the 343 other Gurkha PoWs who have been denied compensation on racially discriminatory grounds,” said their lawyer Phil Shiner.
“It is important also that my clients’ service for the British will now be formally acknowledged, and this will give them comfort in their last years,” he added.
The Gurkhas fought and died for the British for nearly 200 years but whose relationship with their former colonial masters has now turned sour.
The High Court judgment will force the government to include the Gurkhas in a payment of £10,000 ($15,510) made two years ago to former British prisoners of war of the Japanese.
To date the government has refused to include the Gurkhas in the payout on the grounds that they were not technically part of the British army — a line the Gurkhas took as deeply offensive. A ministry of defence spokeswoman said the government was studying the judgement in detail and had no further comment.
“We are considering an appeal at the moment,” she added.
In a trenchant judgment, High Court judge Justice McCombe said the decision to exclude the Gurkhas was racist.
“The Gurkhas were excluded on the basis of a constitutional distinction which was in fact founded upon race,” he said in his written verdict.
He also rejected the idea that the test case by three former Gurkhas — all now in their 80s — would trigger a flood of applications for compensation by other indigenous groups who fought for the British and were captured by the Japanese.
“The ‘floodgates’ argument... is difficult to follow in the light of the facts before the court,” he said. The ruling — in the first of three discrimination cases by Gurkhas against the British government — came as welcome relief to claimant Pahalman Gurung who was just 21 when he was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942.