Manipur. North-east India has always been a centre of attraction in tourism, and the seven sisters appear to offer one of the best experiences for exploring nature. The north-eastern states have come a long way and witnessed numerous changes in politics, economy, and society. Especially Manipur, which is called the ‘Jewel of India,’ also has distinctive places that can blow the mind.
A market in Manipur, which represents its rich culture and history, makes the state different from others. The Ima Keithel or Mothers Market is situated at Imphal’s Khwairamband, widely known for being the 500-year-old world’s largest all-women market.
Dating back more than a century, the all-women market is first-of-its-kind for several reasons. As many as 5,000 women shopkeepers hold licenses to put up their stalls and exercise trade. From one generation to another, these licenses are passed in a family. Historians believe the market originated in the 16th century with countable stalls and people.
According to historical texts, a forced labour system was imposed in the kingdom of Manipur named ‘Lallup-Kaba,’ under which all men from the community were supposed to serve in the army for specific years.
As all men were admitted to the army, women stepped forward to ensure their families continued to earn a livelihood. This is also noted as an instance where women broke the stereotype that ‘only men are reigned to ensure income and livelihood.’ After some women came forward to trade in the market, more showed courage and joined hands. They all put up their stalls in a specific area and started buying and selling products.
Later, the Ima Keithel market was recognised as an all-women market, and men were denied permission to put up their stalls. The government of Manipur believes that the women traders with distinct characteristics and status are the state’s pride, and it’s necessary to protect and promote them to develop their entrepreneurial skills.
The market has an unusual rule that only married women can trade here. Such customs and traditions have been carried out for years and centuries. According to officials, married women who want to start their businesses can take a loan from the union and set up their stalls.
The loans can be paid back over a period of time to the union. A women’s union supervises, controls, and monitors the entire market. It’s divided into three buildings – New Market, Ema Market, and Laxmi Market, and covers almost a three km area. The Imphal Municipal Council also looks after the site for development and maintenance.
Input Courtesy – The Logical Indian