British actress and champion of Gurkha cause Joanna Lumley was hailed as 'Nepali cheli (daughter)' and felicitated on Monday for her remarkable contribution to the Gurkha cause and successful campaign she led which helped Gurkha veterans win the right to settle in the United Kingdom (UK).
Hundreds of those veterans and their family members organized a civic reception at the Kathmandu City Hall in her honor and gave her a standing ovation as she started to address the cheering crowd. Constituent Assembly chairman Subhash Nemwang presided over the ceremony to celebrate the successful campaign.
During her emotionally charged speech, Lumley called Nepal her home and thanked the veterans and their family members for accepting her as one of their daughters.
"I am very happy to have come to my home Nepal," she said speaking in Nepali after being felicitated with traditional silk scarf and flower garlands by the Gurkha veterans and their family members. She said she was speaking as a daughter of the Gurkha regiment to the people "who have been friends of my father and forefathers for more than 200 years".
Joanna was born in Kashmir to a British army officer who was rescued during a battle in the Second World War by Gurkha soldier Tul Bahadur Pun. She later joined the Gurkha cause after the British government denied Pun, the winner of Britain's highest military honor the Victoria Cross, the right to live in the United Kingdom.
"My father admired the legendary courage, grace and friendliness of the Gurkhas while serving with them as a Gurkha officer, and today on my first visit to Nepal I am proud to know that I have been accepted as your daughter," the 63-year-old British television star and famous human rights campaigner said evoking a thunderous round applause and cheers from the Gurkhas.
Earlier on Monday, she met President Dr Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal seperately and was thanked for what she has helped the Gurkahs to achieve in their quest for justice. Later that same day, she visited the British embassy to lay a wreath at a memorial to some 45,000 Gurkhas who died while serving in the British army.
She appeared close to tears as she proceeded to pay tribute to all the fallen Gurkha heroes and later said the experience was "extremely moving" which reminded her of the "bravest of the brave" Gurkhas. She also said that the Gurkha justice campaign is not yet over, as the issue of same pension to Gurkhas as their British counterpart is yet to be settled.
Lumley is in Nepal for a six-day visit with a 36-member delegation which includes Peter Carroll, the British local government representative who has been campaigning on behalf of the Gurkha veterans since 2004, Maiti Nepal president Anuradha Koirala, Folkstone town councilor Dhan Gurung, the first Nepali to be elected to public office in the UK, and British journalists.
She is set to visit eastern Nepal town Dharan and Jhapa today to meet Gurkha community there. On Wednesday, she will fly to Pokhara, which is home to largest Gurkha community in the country.
Gurkha veterans and their family members are expected to turn out in their thousands to greet her during her visit to these three towns. Reports said Gurkha veterans living in remote areas have already started walking to the towns she is set to visit.
Following immense public pressure after the active campaigning, the British government finally relented and in May granted residency rights to Gurkha soliders who had retired before 1997.
Previously, only those who retired after 1997 had been eligible to apply for permanent residency in UK. nepalnews.com