Late on Saturday night, Hajra Bano and her husband, Bashir Ahmad Khanday crossed several layers of security cordon and knocked on the door of a two storey house in Anantnag’s Dialgam. Inside, 18-year-old Rouf Khanday, her son, did not respond to the first few knocks and then his mother called out, “Rouf, it is me. Open the door, I have come to speak to you.” He heard his mother’s voice at the door and opened it allowing his parents inside before locking it again. By next day, the house was rubble and Rouf was buried in the graveyard barely 500 meters from his house in Hakura, Anantnag.
On Wednesday, the fourth day since Rouf Khanday was killed in the Dialgam encounter, his mother is a portrait of composure. “I saw him for 15 minutes inside the house, his resolve was unbreakable and there is nothing I could have said to him that would have made him chang his mind.” He was one of two militants in the house of Mohammad Asadullah Khan in Dialgam village on Saturday evening.
Police officials at the spot convinced his associate, Imran Rashid, to come out of the house with the assistance of his parents and apprehended him. However, the same strategy did not work with Rouf. 13 militants were killed in three separate operations on Sunday while four civilians and three army jawaans also lost their lives. Imran was from Bijbehara, in the same district and a school drop out, around the same age as Rouf, according to the police.
Born in 2000 Rouf was pursuing his bachelors degree at the local college before going ‘missing’ mid-February. His brother, Aashiq Hussain brings out his notes and certificates, “He was a good student. He cared about his family,” he says. Most of the pages in Rouf’s college notes, sets of printed pages in reading material on economics and Islamic studies, were underlined and had foot notes. He played cricket and has certificates of participation in under-14 local cricket tournaments. “He was an all rounder,” his brother adds.
“He told us he is going to Jammu. He was enrolled in college but he also worked as a labourer in the orchards here in the village, like many boys his age. He was hard-working at both,” his mother recalls. She said that he had about Rs 20,000 on him when he left home from working in the fields. The family associates his decision to join armed militancy with an episode in 2016. “He was caught by the police in Wailoo, on a bike with a friend. They kept him there 45 days in custody without showing his arrest and without providing a cause for his detention,” his older brother, Aashiq said.
There are two tents pitched in the courtyard of his house on Wednesday, one for men and one for women, neighbours and relatives filled both. They raised their hands in prayer as an elder recited verses of the Quran and prayed for the departed. Only four nights ago, the same night that Rouf became a memory, the family was preparing for their youngest child, Masarat’s engagement ceremony the next day. Her friends were applying Henna on her hands and the extended family had come together to join the celebration, until the police knocked the door.
Rouf was youngest of six brothers and the only one to have joined militancy in the family, their father works as a carpenter in the village. “We sat down with him and I held him and told him that SSP sahab has told me he will hand you over to us after questioning. I implored with him to come out but he said he had chosen his path and that we should pray for him.” Those who saw Hajra come out of the house, say that she was trembling. As she stepped out, “I saw that the other boy, who had surrendered, was being pushed around by soldiers and suddenly I agreed with my son,” she said.
After Imran surrendered, Rouf was left with one pistol, a couple of grenades and a Under Barrel Grenade Launcher against the might of the joint forces of the army, the J&K police and the CRPF. Neighbours state that they heard gunshots after 1:30 am that lasted till about 4 in the morning, long after Rouf’s parents had left the building and were awaiting news of him at the District Police Headquarters at Anantnag. They only went home with their son’s dead body that was handed to them the next day.
Senior Superintendent of Police Anantnag, Altaf Khan, who urged Rouf’s parents to try and convince him to surrender at the encounter site, told The Indian Express, that Rouf had been an “over ground workers for the Hizbul Mujahideen in 2016 and even travelled to Pakistan on a visa early this year.” The SSP said that before calling his parents, he sent one of the house owner’s phones inside the building and called him 15 times on it. “I told him to surrender. One particularly conversation went on for over 30 minutes. He spoke of faith, that made him choose his path and we spoke about that at length.” In their last conversation, “Rouf asked to speak to his family and asked if the phone had enough balance on it to call them. I told him he could make the call,” SSP Khan said.
The family plays the recording of the call over and over. It is their memory of him and his resolve. They quote his last sentences and console each other. His sister’s engagement has been postponed and with her hands still painted in henna she serves tea to the guests who come to join the family in its prayers. In his last phone call to them, she asks him to offer prayers. “My life is finished if I surrender, it will be hell. I will be thrown in jail for the rest of my life, dying a martyr’s death is much better than that.
Another family member asks if there way for him to leave, they ask for his forgiveness. Gun shots ringing in the background, he tells them, “I am satisfied with my decision. Do not cry at my funeral.”
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