Written in their Karma

James Edwin Bettney graduated from Photography in 2011. As part of his final year he produced ‘Written in their Karma’, a piece of research involving several trips to Nepal. During the 2 months he spent in Nepal he photographed and interviewed a total of 60 women from around Nepal, his assistant interviewed a further 60 women for the project. The project resulted in a publication and establishing a charity to support the Nepalese widows the project documented. You can contribute to the charity here.

James is currently working as a freelance photographer while funding a further project to look at the concept of time by focusing on an Amazonian tribe who have no language or intellectual concept of time. He is researching this project with a Professor of linguistics from Portsmouth University.

In Nepali culture, widows are looked upon with great animosity, often being branded witches or whores. Their society believes it is their immoral actions in a previous life that form the defining reasons behind the deaths of their husbands. They have, therefore, been ostracized for generations, losing their status in both the home and society.

A wife in Nepal is considered the home maker and is highly celebrated, or even worshipped. It is the men who provide the financial income, in whatever form that may take. Their wives’ role is to raise the children and perform domestic duties. Appearance is regarded as a salient aspect of a Nepali woman’s identity, adorning intricately embroidered clothing, customarily in red, as this very colour represents the virtuous bond of marriage and the binding vows which provide her with status and security within society.

It is a saddening irony that these lovingly worshipped ‘goddesses’ within the community can soon be thrown into an ever increasing spiral of discrimination and paralyzing social exclusion for no other reason than that of the passing of their husbands.  Already encountering the grief that one suffers when losing a loved one, these women face an additional and more debilitating reality: they have to come to terms with existing within society’s brutal and neglected periphery.

This is not, however, a hardship faced only by the widows in Nepal. In many neighbouring countries, particularly ones in which Hinduism forms the predominant religion, the sanctity of marriage is of paramount importance in a woman’s life. These widows, therefore, are also resigned to an existence of unequal and unfair treatment. However, Nepal possesses a particularly controversial history when exploring a subject such as the plight of its widows. In the not so distant past, a widow’s life was considered to be so utterly worthless that she was forced to commit suicide by throwing herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre in a ritual known as Suttee. This harrowing practice was outlawed in the early 19th century. However, the social discrimination attached to the loss of a husband remains prevalent among all of Nepal’s communities.

The work exhibited here could not have been completed without the cooperation of WHR-SWG (Women for Human Rights – Single Women’s Group) whose dedicated and persistent campaigning has not only been the catalyst for real and palpable change within Nepal, but is now extending its caring arms to protect the single women that are affected throughout the entirety of South Asia.