Dustin Pledger

Dustin grew up in rural northwest Georgia. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management where he is pursuing an M.A. in Coexistence and Conflict. Dustin is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served two years in Oromia, Ethiopia. There he worked as an English Language Teacher Trainer, helping to improve the teaching methodology of primary school English teachers. During his time in Oromia, he was involved in many secondary projects, including sanitation, HIV/AIDS, and leadership training for young women. At the end of his two years in Oromia, Dustin was selected to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in the Ethiopian region of Tigray, where he would help establish and co-manage a regional office which sought to support the work of the Peace Corps Volunteers living in the region by conducting site visits, identifying future sites, and maintaining relationships with volunteers’ host organizations.

Tej Bahadur Bhandari

19 Jul

I think most of my preconceptions about “disappearances” came from movies. I think of scenes in movies like Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men where Theo Faron (played by Clive Owen) is hurriedly shoved into a windowless van which then speeds off. The disappearances I think of happen quickly, so as not to attract attention. Sometimes they happen at night under cover of darkness – a group of armed men show up to a house in the night; that kind of thing.

In other words, when I think of disappearances, I don’t think about what happened to Ram’s father thirteen and a half years ago.



Ram Kumar Bhandari (left) and his father, Tej Bahadur Bhandari 

Tej Bahadur Bhandari was 56 years old and was a retired teacher and social worker. In the final days of 2001 he had been threatened and detained by security forces in his home district of Lamjung. The Royal Nepal Army had entered the war only the month prior, and their crackdown would lead to the highest number of disappearances in the following years. In 2003 and 2004, more people were forcibly disappeared in Nepal than in any other country on Earth.

On the final day of 2001 Tej Bhandari was called into the district capital for the last time. Shortly after getting off of the bus into town, he was confronted by security forces. They detained him.

And this is where all my pre-conceived notions of the nature of disappearances break down.

What followed was not inconspicuous, quick, or secret. The security forces proceeded to beat Mr. Bhandari in the middle of the main thoroughfare. They did this in broad daylight. They shouted while doing so.

StreetRam, standing in the spot his father was beaten and kidnapped

There was more to the Machiavellian equation than “This person needs to go” – the security forces wanted to send a message to the people of Lamjung. I had been drawing my preconceptions from the wrong places; this wasn’t the stuff of political thrillers, this was something darker. This was a crime drama gone horrible wrong – one where the gangsters and the police were played by the same actors.

Eventually the beating ended, and then the vehicle made its appearance. It drove to the district police station.

This is the part where you generally see the words “And he was never seen again.” Ram, Tej’s son, even writes this in his account for the Nepali Times.

The problem is, though, Tej was seen again after that. Because of the public beating, the people in Lamjung know who it was that carried out these horrible acts. Ram knows exactly who took his father, and he names names in his article. Tej was seen again by many members of the security forces. The problem isn’t that Tej Bhandari wasn’t seen again, the problem is that the people we know are responsible refuse to speak and that Nepal’s government is unwilling to enforce its own 2007 Supreme Court ruling which classified all disappearances as criminal acts.

Why? Because the military is still staffed, and often lead, by known perpetrators. This is the case with at least two of them men responsible for what happened to Mr. Bhandari.


It has taken me a long time to get around to publishing this. What happened to Ram’s father is not unique, but the way in which it happened highlights the total disregard for state has for families – at least if it happened like I imagined it, the security forces would have something to hide behind (e.g. “Oh, he never showed up to the office? Who knows what happened?”)

Everyone knows what happened. Ram has had to live for 13 and a half years knowing what happened and who did it. Maybe I have trouble thinking and writing about this because I can’t even imagine what that is like.

Posted By Dustin Pledger

Posted Jul 19th, 2015


  • Sarah Reichenbach

    July 26, 2015


    Thanks for sharing Dustin. In many ways, this is not so different to what many of the BOSFAM women are going through. The last sentence is so true; we can try as hard as we want but we will never really understand what this kind of trauma feels like.

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