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Exiled Pandits sceptical of future in Indian Kashmir

Exiled Kashmiri Pandits have found new hope of returning to their homeland in the Indian-administered northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. But even as the new Indian government promises to expedite their safe return, some members of the community are sceptical about their future.

INDIA: Kashmiri Pandits have found new hope of returning to their homeland in the Indian-administered northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Having co-existed peacefully with Muslims until 1989, the minority Hindu Kashmiris had to flee for their lives after an armed insurgency in the Kashmir Valley.

But even as the new Indian government promises to expedite their safe return, some members of the exiled community are sceptical about their future.

India’s President Pranab Mukherjee said: "Special efforts will be made to ensure that Kashmiri Pandits return to the land of their ancestors with full dignity, security and assured livelihood."

Over a hundred thousand from the minority Hindu community had fled to other parts of India in 1989 and 1990, after a militancy outbreak threatened their security and livelihoods.

Still, a glimmer of hope has returned, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has said it will announce measures to ensure their safe passage back.

But many are still afraid of what awaits them.

R L Bhatt, leader of Kashmir Vichar Manch, said: "I hope that when we return to Kashmir, we are not burnt to death or left abandoned."

Various federal and the state governments have spoken of assisting their return since 1996, but the reality remains dismal.

Once wealthy traders and landlords, the minority community now lives in dingy flats, surviving on US$100 a month.

Tushar Tikkoo, a Kashmiri Pandit refugee, said: "The government gives us compensation but also asks us to pay electricity and water bills. Where should we pay from? We don't have shops or any property here."

With over 140,000 Kashmiri Pandits living in exile, it will likely be a while before everyone can return to their ancestral land.

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