Death at Doorstep

Rangrez family collect bits and pieces from their razed house where two militants were killed in a 22 hour long gun battle, Shams Irfan talks to the couple who spent the night amid bullets, smoke and shells

Encounter-ahmed-nagar
Rangrez’s house damaged in the encounter.

On the evening of 12th April, 2014 in Ahmad Nagar, a quite suburb on City outskirts, Abdul Majid Rangrez, 53, a former transport department employee was enjoying some quiet moments in his kitchen with his wife and teenage daughter.

Being the sole beard earner for his family, two months back Rangrez took voluntarily retirement from his services to set up his own business. As the family was busy planning their future, some 500 meters away, beyond half bloomed almond trees, which are visible from Rangrez’s kitchen, a new script was being written.

Two youngsters, both in their early twenties, came running in through a broken wall that guarded Rangrez’s house from the backside, and landed into the kitchen.

The entire scene happened so quick that no words were exchanged between Rangrez’s family and the men who had barged in.

Before Rangrez or his frightened wife Shafiqa, 45, could have asked the purpose of their intrusion, one of the youngsters lifted his cloak to expose an assault rifle. There was no need for any explanation as the sound of gunshots from outside the house, piercing through almond trees, reached Rangrez’s ears.

It took no time for Rangrez and his family to understand the situation they were in. “I knew instantly that we are in great danger,” recalls Rangrez who still wore a death like look on his face two days later.

Both youngsters, who were later identified as Abu Huzaifa and Chohta Hafiz of LeT militant outfit, ordered Rangrez, his wife and their daughter to remain silent while they scanned the house thoroughly.

“They moved from one room to another as if looking for a way out,” says Shafiqa.

But there was no way out of the house as the entire locality was by now cordoned off by the government forces. “There were occasional gunshots too,” says Rangrez. “They ordered us to stay in the kitchen till they don’t say otherwise. But I was getting highly impatient as I feared for mine and my family’s life,” says Rangrez. “I was not able to think straight.”

But there was one person who was alert and thinking too. It was Rangreez’s daughter Asma, a lawyer by profession, who managed to jump out of the bathroom window and raise an alarm about her parent’s captivity. “I told them (militants) that I want to use the bathroom and they allowed. I cut through iron mesh that was placed on the small bathroom window to jump outside,” said Asma plainly.

When Asma did not return from the bathroom, her mother Shafiqa started wailing desperately thinking that her daughter was killed in the ongoing exchange of fire between militants and government forces who had surrounded the house. “There were bullets coming in from every direction,” recalls Shafiqa.

Rangrez has shifted to Ahmad Nagar colony only a decade back from congested Khanyar locality. This single story, two bedroom house was all they could manage from their limited income. “With every bullet pierced through window panes, my heart sank as my dream house was being destroyed. All I could think was how we had managed to build this house despite hardships,” says Shafiqa.

As the firing intensified Rangrez and Shafiqa cuddled into their bedroom and stayed there. “My husband fainted several times as he knew the end is near. We hugged each other and stayed there like that waiting for a bullet or a shell to tear us apart,” says Shafiqa.

The operation was stopped for a few hours during the night as Asma had told the officer in charge that her father and mother are inside. “When I told the officer that I came out of the bathroom window, he said you are lucky that we did not fire at you as we were told there is nobody inside the house except two militants,” says Asma.

Abdul Majid Rangrez
Abdul Majid Rangrez

Inside the house, both the militants had taken two separate ‘safe’ spots to fight. “One of them was firing from our bedroom and other was on the roof,” says Shafiqa. “They hardly talked. All they said was we are sorry. Nothing will happen to you. We are just a few hours away from death,” recalled Shafiqa.

The night passed rather slowly for Rangrez and his wife as they struggled to survive through pepper gas, mortar shells, bullets and fear of almost certain death.

“Throughout the night my husband would tell me that being a woman you have more chances of survival as they will eventually let you go, but my story is over now,” says Shafiqa.

Next morning at around 6, exactly 12 hours after the militants had taken refuge inside Rangrez’s house, firing resumed.

“I was half awake, half unconscious, half dead, when the sound of bullets hitting the concrete walls brought me back to reality. I instantly remembered that my daughter is still missing, probably dead. And I began to cry again,” says Shafiqa.

Around same time, police officer heading the operation called Asma and asked her to call her mother and father. “I began to shout my father and mother’s name from my neighbour’s house but there was no response from inside. I told the officer that something bad has happened to them. Then after half an hour of shouting my mother called back and said that she is fine,” says Asma.

Then the officer shouted and asked Shafiqa to use her mobile phone as he wanted to talk to militants. “My phone was in the kitchen. I asked militants, can I get my phone as police wants to talk to them,” says Shafiqa.

But militants refused to talk to police and told Shafiqa that they will rather die fighting than surrender. “As I reached the kitchen to collect my phone army men dragged me out of the house and tried to bundle me into an armoured vehicle,” says Shafiqa.

Shafiqa was finally out and with her daughter. But her husband was still inside with the militants. “After half an hour one of the militants let me go and said, our end is near. You better go and be with your family. We are sorry about your house,” recalls Rangrez as he sits amidst ruins of his house.

After Rangrez and his wife were safely out of the house, police and army used mortar shells to launch a final assault to kill the militants. “Within no time our house was up in flames. It was razed to ground in front of our eyes and we could do nothing but watch,” says Shafiqa.

At around 4 PM, some 22 hours after the first bullet hit Rangrez house, both the militants were killed.

“There is nothing left. Not even a single inch of space without a bullet hole,” says Asma.

A day later, Rangrez’s family and their relatives were clearing the debris to start the process of building their lives and house all over again.

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