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The strange case of Tul Bahadur Pun

Tul Bahadur Pun

Since last Thursday, when the story of the refusal of Tul Bahadur Pun’s immigration application broke, I’ve been contacted by a quite extraordinary range of people asking me to support his appeal – from people I’ve never met, to fellow bloggers, to personal friends, to TV presenters. Mr Pun has, intentionally or otherwise, become the cause célèbre of students, social networkers, and bloggers nationwide (examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10), but I’m not so sure about his case.

Tul Bahadur Pun is an 84 year-old Nepalese citizen. He’s lived in Nepal for most of his life, and, like may 84 year-olds, has developed a collection of medical conditions – in his case, heart problems, asthma, and diabetes. In his home country of Nepal, medication is not regularly available for his consumption, and so he’d like to move to Britain.

Mr Pun has no family in Britain. He has no-one to support him. He wants to move here to use the services of the NHS, and no doubt rely on Social Services for his social requirements. He is the classical immigrant ‘drain on society’ that the Daily Mail is forever seeking to vilify.

Yet a huge amount of support has surrounded Mr Pun’s case, as he fought for 18 years with the Indian Army and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts with the allied forces during the Second World War. Does that entitle him to British citizenship? By current immigration rules? No. Morally? I’m not sure.

If you read around his case, you’ll come across a lot of emotive stuff about him being denied entry to Britain on the basis that he ‘failed to demonstrate strong ties to the UK’. In immigration terms, this means he’ll be reliant on the state, and so saying that receipt of the VC ‘demonstrates strong ties’ is misleading. You’ll also note that this was only one of several reasons why his application was denied, another being that it was not demonstrated that regular medication would actually improve his condition. Try to find the full text of his rejection has beaten me, which makes it difficult to make an informed judgement on the case.

But more sinister about the whole campaign for which Mr Pun has become the poster-boy is that thousands of people are being urged to sign a Downing Street petition calling for all Ghurkas to have the right to come and settle in the UK. People who support this one individual case are being urged to support a campaign that has quite different aims to merely allowing Mr Pun access to healthcare. It’s extrapolation from one emotive case to the cases of many, and however sympathetic I might feel towards Mr Pun, the underhand way in which his lawyers are playing this game is despicable.

If we open our doors to all Ghurkas, who else are we to admit? Is every US soldier that has served alongside British comrades in Iraq to be entitled to NHS care because of the shocking state of medical care in their home country? And besides, why are we limiting ourselves to those who have made a military contribution to the country? Are there not many others who’ve made an equally large contribution, with equally large personal sacrifice, who deserve citizenship too? I’m sure as Brits we have plenty of our own examples of Clara Maass, but our national obsession with remembering and honouring militarian sacrifices means that they are tragically forgotten. Many, many people risk their lives for the good of this country day after day – only the tiniest proportion of them are military personnel.

Mr Pun fought for the wellbeing of a grateful nation, and did so with exceptional bravery. Nonetheless, he did so voluntarily, of his own free will. He now has health problems unrelated to his service, but would like something back from the country for which he gave so much. I’m not sure we’re morally obliged to provide it, but it seems mean-spirited at best to deny citizenship and care to the exceptional Mr Pun, and I will make those views known to the relevant people in the relevant ways.

But who else, out of the thousands of people who apply for immigration each year, is exceptional? How do we define who ‘deserves’ our help and who doesn’t? The fact is, we condemn an awful lot of people to receiving poor medical care every year, and every one of those cases is a tragedy – but a necessary tragedy if we want to retain the level of health and social care we universally provide to citizens of our fine country.

The question is not about Mr Pun, and certainly not about allowing Mr Pun and all of his comrades have open access to the UK. The question is much bigger than that. And I have no answers.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

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Comments and responses

Comment from Coire

    18.02, 29/05/2007

As far as I’m concerned, if you fight for a country (i.e. under their banner, not classing joint ops), that country should look after you. A way of getting US citizenship is by joining their army. The US soldiers have never come under British jurisdiction, and besides, their state treats there ex-soldiers a hell of a lot better than the UK, so they wouldn’t want to come here anyway. They have a ‘military NHS’, if you like. There have been a few problems, but by and large their vetrans recieve very good care – and a lot more respect from the general public then over here.

Commonwealth soldiers (e.g. from South Africa, Fiji etc) have the same rights as native-born British soldiers.

200 Gurkhas a year join the British Army (whittled down from 12,000 applicants)- a tiny fraction of all immigrants. Those who have retired after 1997 are allowed to settle in the UK. However, the veterans of WWII, the Falklands and the first Gulf War do not have this right – which is wrong, and that is why the petition has been set up. The treatment of Gurkhas (who are widely regarded as some of the fiercest warriors, but some of the loyalest and kindest people you could meet; and having met quite a few, I completely agree), has always been second rate. They are not allowed back to Nepal for 3 years after they sign up. They recieve a pittance of a pension (until very recently, but the change to the rules only affect recent retirees).

I also agree that anyone who has made a significant contribution to the country should be allowed residence; but yes, deciding who would be problematic, not least because the rubber stamp brigade just see in black and white.

I disagree we have an obsession with military sacrifices; the dwindling numbers at Rememberance Day services speak for that; War should never be forgotten, it is only by remembering the horrors of it we can hope to prevent it. Unfortunately, education in this these days seems sadly lacking.

Comment from Coire

    18.19, 29/05/2007

PS with regard to ‘no family or support’ – old comrades associations ARE a family, and there have been many, many offers of support and healthcare for Mr Pun from many different people. If he were to become a Chelsea Pensioner, he would surrender his army pension (not that it’s a huge amount) and come under the care of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, so compared to many, he would most definately NOT be a huge drain on the state.

Oh and Indian army = British Army in the days of WWII – they were classed as British, not allies as far as I am aware, and had British Officers (though anyone else, please correct me if I am wrong)

Comment from J.Fallon

    18.32, 29/05/2007

Unbelievable, unbelievable, I am astonished that people like you exist, to say we owe this man nothing, are deranged??, I am struggling to write as rage runs through me, you sir, have no clue what honour is, I would imagine you are the sort of man that would have a drink bought for you and yet not feel compelled to buy one in return. This man fought for our country, not his, it is because of men like Mr Pun VC that you live in a world where you are able to spout such dribble without fear of being dragged from your bed at night and being buried in some nameless field. It is a point of honour (A concept clearly foreign to you) that we should allow this man to spend the remainder of his days in the UK.

Having served on numerous operations myself and being exposed to some truely horrific things, I can in some small way understand what “The greatest generation” went through but even my expieriances can never come close to the horror of a “World war”.

You should bow your head with shame, when a man such as this asks if he may come to the UK the answer should be a swift “Certainly sir, may I carry your bags” and nothing else. It is because on men (I use the term loosely) like you that Great Britain is fast becoming an Ironic name, perhaps a long hard look at yourself and your moral values is whats required here.

Comment from Tigs2

    18.37, 29/05/2007

Who the hell do you think you are?? You are correct at the top of the page ‘Ramblings from an ill-informed medical student’. It is because of men like Mr Pun VC you now enjoy the freedom of choice to study medicine. You are not worthy to stand in this mans shadow, let alone spout of garbage as you have done on this page. Now what is the medical treatment for boiling blood!!!

Comment from spike7451

    18.54, 29/05/2007

You said;
“If we open our doors to all Ghurkas, who else are we to admit? ”

Well pal,We’ve got news for you! The doors are already open!Open to those who have nothing to offer the UK,Open to those who come here & disappear,Open to those who come here to sponge off the state,to commit crimes,Terrorist acts & to murder!
(WPC Beshenevsky was murdered by a immigrant!)
Unlike those people above the Gurka’s have a lot to ofer the country.Loyalty for one.
You need a reality check.

Comment from longwayhome

    19.06, 29/05/2007

Sorry mate, you’ve really missed the point. You might want to study a little history along with your medicine if you are having trouble working out whether Mr Pun VC has strong ties to the UK. Its simple: Its about a debt and its time to repay it.

Got a plan for you. Join the TA as a medic. Do just one tour. Come back and tell me you feel the same way.

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    19.22, 29/05/2007

Woah! Everytime I’m about to post this response, I find another five comments vilifying me have arrived. Thank you for all of them, but I’m beginning to think there’s more vitriol on this issue than this one, which would be almost amusingly ironic, though I haven’t yet been called a “bullshit pig dog bastard with a bloody mouth”, so I guess things are going well. 😉

Can I just clarify a couple of points? It seems that, probably due to poor clarity on my part, many of you have missed the point of what I’m saying.

  1. I am not against Mr Pun being allowed citizenship. I think he should be welcomed into the country with open arms. I said that the moral case for this is shaky, but the case based on honour is solid. I’m saying that it is morally uncomfortable to allow Mr Pun alone into the UK, without a wholesale review of who should and should not be allowed in.
  2. I disagree with the way in which the campaign for all Ghurkas to be allowed into the country is being fought, on emotions rather than facts.
  3. I do not disagree that they should be let in – I just think that the best way to go about this is a review of policy and our way of thinking about immigration, not merely letting in one subset of the world’s population who’ve made one kind of contribution, which makes the imbalance and injustice worse.

Now to deal with some specifics:

J.Fallon – To say that I’m deranged based on my opinion that “we owe this man nothing” is odd at best, as that’s certainly not what I’m saying. May I gently suggest that you read the content of my post, rather than jumping to conclusions.

spike7451 – Again, I think you’ve missed my point. “The question is much bigger than Mr Pun”. Reviewing immigration law would attempt to redress the balance you complain about. That’s, sort of, my point.

longwayhome – I’m struggling to see where I said that Mr Pun does not have strong ties to the UK. I believe it was Immigration who made that claim, and I was merely pointing out that in terms of the immigration meaning of that statement, it is correct.

Coire – Hey, thanks for your comment. The comparison of the Gurkhas to the US army is an imperfect one, but my understanding is that they only gained parity with British Army soldiers after 1947 – though do correct me if I’m wrong. The US do provide great care for their veterans, but I was trying to come up with a hypothetical comparison, and it was the best I could do!

I disagree with you about the country’s obsession with military sacrifices. You cite dwindling attendance at Remembrance Day events as evidence that we don’t obsess over them, whereas I’d cite the complete ignorance about, for example, the National Police Memorial Day as evidence that they do get special treatment.

As for Mr Pun being a huge drain on the state, you have a good point. But it only serves to show the parochialism of the immigration guidelines, which are the self-same guidelines I’m arguing to change.

– Indeed, I am a medical student, I am largely uninformed, and these are ramblings. I’m glad you feel that the blog lives up to it’s description.

And just as a final emphasis on my position on Mr Pun specifically:

it seems mean-spirited at best to deny citizenship and care to the exceptional Mr Pun

Comment from Coire

    19.36, 29/05/2007

Simon – thanks for that!

I think the facts behind the campaign for Gurkha’s rights are sound – it is not just being fought on emotional grounds. The background to this has been grumbling for a while, it just needed a ‘straw’ to kick things off – and Mr Pun is much more than a straw (even if he is 5’4”)

Yes, we should pay more attention to the memory of other people; but Rememberance Day is for anyone who has fallen in the service of their country, not just military.

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    21.55, 29/05/2007

No problem! Thanks for your comments!

Remembrance Sunday is, according to the Royal British Legion, “a unique expression of national homage devoted to the remembrance of those who have given their lives in war.”

Believe me, it’s a bit of a sore point with me…

As for Mr Pun being 5’4″… I’m not much bigger than that… Well, only six inches… I hope I’m more than a straw, too!

Comment from Mort Karman

    02.28, 30/05/2007

I don’t know how many people have been honoured with a Victoria Cross fighting for the commonwealth, but if each and every one got British citizenship, they deserve it.You do not get a VC for cutting your finger while opening a can of peas in a war zone. There actually are very few people who live to receive their VC. Most died in brave action. As far as allowing everyone who has ever done a service to the UK citizenship-how about you let me in-in 1973 I was appointed one of only two news photographers to photograph HM Queen Elizabeth when she opened the Shaw Theater in Niagara On The Lake, Ontario. I can even claim a need to be in the UK. I went back to the old country (Canada) last week and visited Niagara On The Lake for the first time in over 30 years. The house I had across the road from the Shaw Theater is no more- it wand the entire neighbourhood had been torn down and is now a hotel and high end shops. Can I claim homeless refugee? Perhaps I don’t qualify, but that poor old man does.

Comment from julie usher

    18.27, 31/05/2007

Give the Indian gentleman Chelsea Pensioner status. Honour his wishes to come here and die here we owe these brave men, my hushand served with the Gurkhas in MALAYA DURING THE CONFRONTATION HE HAD NOTHING BUT PRAISE FOR THEIR LOYALTY AND COURAGE.

Comment from Des Orpin

    20.30, 31/05/2007

For anyone who has seen service in any of the armed forces, ever, the moral commitment to Tul Bahadur Pun is absolute. Alas he is another “Tommy Atkins” at a time when service has become old fashioned and second best to self service. If the public were to look at British troops in action on the ground in Iraq and Afganistan today many would be most surprised at the high numbers of “foreigners” serving their interests. Not a new idea; how many “Romans” were Roman in Britain AD43. And guess what – when the foreign “Roman” had served his time he had earned his place in Rome. Et tu Tul Bahadur Pun; you have earned your place here, and if precedents will be set that your ilk will also have earned their place here too – then I will be at the airport to carry their bags. Service to this nation, military or not, voluntary or not, for reward or not, in pursuit of self interest or not, deserves honouring and our loyalty. Come on Mr Liam Byrne the Immigration Minister, if we can get the paperwork right for a young barefoot white South African female runner likely to earn us an Olympic Gold Medal we can do it for an 84 year old winner of a Victoria Cross in need of medical care. Do that “in my name”.

Comment from John white

    23.15, 31/05/2007

Thank you. This is the most intelligent comment I have seen about this issue. In my view, it’s about “exceptionality”. There is no need to set the Downing St petition precedent, this man is, clearly, someone who has given at least as much as other WW2 heroes [D.Bader, etc]. Given the wasted resources which have been doled out to “far less worthy” people, including virtually every Briton alive today, it would not only be churlish, but also very stupid, to deny him the relatively paltry amounts of DWP and NHS benefits he might accrue. If he’s denied this in his dying months/years, God help us all. He is exceptional.
Best wishes [good blog]
John White

Comment from Coire

    14.06, 02/06/2007

He’s allowed in!! :o)

Now for all the other Gurkhas, we’ve won one battle, now for the war….

Comment from Mort Karman

    22.13, 02/06/2007

Politicians actually let the poor old man into the UK. Perhaps you doctors ought to examine the politicos involved. Government types who do the right thing may be ill as they do not follow the general trend of politicians in most countries.

Comment from Coire

    19.15, 04/06/2007

I wouldn’t worry about the politicians, Mort. I very much doubt they did the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. I think it’s more fear of losing votes….

Comment from hitch

    06.33, 26/07/2007

“Is every US soldier that has served alongside British comrades in Iraq to be entitled to NHS care because of the shocking state of medical care in their home country?” – sjhoward.

You are not only clueless about what you are talking about but you are also one very ungrateful and nauseating character. Shame on you!

The US soldiers represent their country (the US) and are deployed by their government. The Gurkhas, on the other hand, are an INTEGRAL PART of the British Army and are recruited by the British government. They are deployed by the British government and fight for the interests of Britain.

How can you compare the Gurkhas which forms an elite force in the British Army with the Americans ? That’s a frivolous attempt to playdown the enourmous contribution that Gurkhas have made to British interests.

The Gurkhas share a very long association with Britain dating back to more than two hundred years. They have fought gallantly for Britain in all the major conflicts including WW I & II. More than 45000 Gurkhas have sacrifised their lives fighting for the interests of a country they did not even belong to.

Had Gurkhas been dispensable, the British government would no longer recruit them. There is a reason why Britain continues to recruit Gurkhas to this day and age and that is because they are indispensable. They are often the ones sent on very difficult and dangerous missions. They are not only very brave fighters but also fiercely loyal.

Britain began recruiting Gurkhas after being awe-striken by their bravery and fighting prowess during a battle with the hill people of Nepal more than two centuries ago who despite being vastly outnumbered and ill-equipped than the British forces put up a fierce fight. The British forces that had already conquered India and much of the world came to a conclusion that it was an unwinable battle. After that the two sides signed a peace treaty.

Incidently, Nepal is among a few countries that have never been colonized since medieval times.

The Gurkhas despite being the most loyal friends of British people have been treated appallingly by the British government for far too long. The Gurkhas were paid pittance during their service in the British army, not even sufficeint to live a frugal life even in a poor country like Nepal. And the pension they were handed is a big joke. No wonder, they had to look for a job again soon after they retired from the army to make both ends meet.

The British government should be ashamed of its conduct. The Gurkhas gave/sacrificed the most productive years of their life for Britain and once they retire the British government doesn’t want to know anything. Is this how you show your gratitude? Just because the Gurkhas are very amicable and dutiful doesn’t mean you exploit them.

Thousands of war veterans without whom the victories would not have been possible continue to live in abject poverty in pitiable conditions in Nepal. They have been left high and dry by the government they fought for. The British government and the people owe them a huge debt that can never be repaid. It is the responsibility of the British government to look after the welfare of the veterans.

Every year a few hundred Gurkhas are recuited in the Singapore police force but they enjoy the same facilities, perks, salaries and pensions as the Singapreans. There is no discrimination against the Gurkhas.

Why is it the British government that discriminates against the Gurkhas? All that the Gurkhas have been demanding is an end to the discrimination and a parity in salaries and pensions. They are not asking for a reward, so, there is nothing for the stingy British government to be terribly worried about. They just want to be treated fairly. Is that too much to ask for?

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