I recently was in Imphal, the capital city of Manipur. Besides the beauty of this small northeastern state, what struck a chord ithin was the experience of visiting the Khwairamband Bazar, better known as the Ima Keithal market.
For instance, it happens to be the world’s only all-women run marketplace. The state has had its share of insurgency and violence, resulting in military presence. Traditionally, the people there have been accomplished warriors, and needless to say, the women of Manipur are very strong-willed, who have defended against monopolistic trade practices. Ima Keithal market is the epitome and pride of Manipur.
Translated, Ima Keithal means ‘Mother’s Market’, and is the hallmark of women equality and stance irrespective of their race or religious beliefs. All its shopkeepers, around 4,000, are women.
Secondly, what pleased me was observing the discussions amongst these ladies while taking a stroll during the lunch hour: Rather than useless gossips these women actively discuss socio-political issues. All very learned and knowledgeable women indeed!
Thirdly, if you thought the merchandise here would be limited to just local produce, you would be surprised at the variety: be it vegetables or meat; or fine woolens and other clothes; or home mart and jewellery – Ima Keithal has it all. Not to mention the beautiful handicrafts of Manipur.
The market has matured over the years: It is now no longer out in the open, but rather the shops have been shifted to govt. constructed buildings to make the shopping experience better.
But this market needs a shot in the arm: In terms of better financing, banks and other micro-financing companies should be aiming to launch creative schemes for these women shopkeepers if they are to keep up with the influx of competition. For these odd 4,000 women shopkeepers are not just petty vendors – but rather represent the crux of the state’s economy, culture and politics at large. Truly, a tribute to women empowerment and the pride of Manipur!