Ima Keithel - Asia's largest all women's market

16th Jun 2015
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Manipur is magnificent. And that is not mere alliteration. For most, this state is synonymous with insurgency, AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act), Irom Sharmila and Mary Kom, not necessarily in that order. But among the numerous other reasons that make Manipur truly memorable is a unique market in its capital city of Imphal.


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Ima Keithel, which literally translated, means mother’s market is perhaps the oldest and only one of its kind in Asia. It is a market wholly operated by women.


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Historically, it is difficult to say when this market was established, though many say it came into being sometime in the 16th century. Traditionally women in Manipur have always been at the forefront, leading the way forward whether it was to fight alcohol and drug abuse, to protest against the draconian AFSPA or raise their voice against unjust economic policies.


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The Ima Keithel is proof of how significant and crucial a role women in this society play. After all, commerce is the backbone of any state. In this one-of-a-kind market you’ll find women entrepreneurs selling fish, vegetables, bamboo and metal craft, dry fish, traditional phaneks (sarongs) and innephis (stoles/dupattas), indigenous herbs, bangles etc.


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There are approximately 4000 women traders who sell their wares here every day. Earlier the market was an amalgam of scattered sheds but now the market is housed in an RCC structure in Khwairamband Bazar. The shift to a more organized setting meant that many vendors lost their space but that hasn’t in any way deterred them from carrying on their business.


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Ima Keithel stands as a beacon of women’s empowerment in the face of untold hardship brought on by years of armed conflict.

 

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