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A beating to go with the tea

'Now you see what Kashmiris suffer all the time,' a bystander tells a journalist after police break his camera and beat him up as they shut down tea stalls during a curfew.

July 08, 2010|By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Srinagar, India — I was at a tea stall near my hotel here in Srinagar, along a strip of houseboats and slowly decaying hotels known as the Boulevard, when the police patrol pulled up Wednesday morning and ordered the tea-wallahs to close down for curfew.

As the workers scrambled to comply, the lead officer, identified on his lapel as Mussafar Shah, and a subordinate started striking them on their backs and legs with four-foot wooden sticks known as lathis.

I took out my cellphone — in reality, the camera wasn't switched on, but I hoped its presence would stem the beatings — identified myself as press and showed my Indian media card. The officer grabbed my phone, smashed it on the stone floor and cursed the media. Then he hit me twice with the lathi, threatened to arrest me and grabbed my notebook, which I managed to wrench back.

Later, after a call to a local government office, my backpack was returned by one of Shah's subordinates — who forced the same vendor to reopen and serve him tea.

Shah was one of their best officers, the policeman said, a "gold medalist." But he was under extreme pressure from his bosses because of the protests that had been racking Srinagar, the capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state.

A senior officer later said he would look into providing compensation for the phone. Local reports said a dozen journalists were roughed up by security forces Tuesday.

"Now you see what Kashmiris suffer all the time," said a bystander who had watched the incident.

mark.magnier@latimes.com

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