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Manipuri women show their commercial might
Khwairambandh Bazar, popularly known as Ima Market (mother’s market) or Nupi Keithel (female market). Located in the heart of Imphal city this market is unique as all the sellers are women alone. But, beware, Manipuri women are the no-nonsense kind.
BILASINI DEVI’S day begins early in the morning. She wakes up at 4 am, performs her household chores and then departs for Imphal, the capital city of the Northeastern state of Manipur by jeep. There she goes to Khwairambandh Bazaar where she sits in her little stall selling vegetables till late evening. She then goes home to prepare her family’s meals and retire for the night. She has to work really hard as her fisherman husband’s earnings are too meagre to support the six member family.

Merma Devi’s life is quite a comfortable one. She lives with her husband, two sons and daughters-in-law in a posh locality of Imphal. As in countless Manipuri households the daughters-in-law share the burden of almost every household duty between themselves, leaving Mema with loads of time on her hands. Rather than waste it at home the latter prefers to go to Khwairambandh Bazar at 10 every morning, and sits in her stall selling “phaneks” or the skirts worn by Manipuri women. She exchanges gossip with her friends, chews “kwa” or paan and is content with life.

These two women are only two instances of the hundreds of women sitting in Khwairambandh Bazar, popularly known as Ima Market (mother’s market) or Nupi Keithel (female market). Located in the heart of Imphal city this market is unique as all the sellers are women alone. One gets almost everything the heart desires from fish and vegetables to exquisitely embroidered shawls and beautiful crockery. A walk through this market is an experience in itself. The market is on the ‘must see’ list of every tourist who comes to Imphal.

Manipur boasts of strong woman power. The ‘Nupi Lan’ (Dec 12) was a famous uprising of common, mostly unlettered Manipuri women against the all-powerful British rule. A monument in the town square in Imphal commemorates this incident. Manipuri women are also called ‘meira paibis’ or torch bearers as they come out with flaming torches to protest against unlawful incidents. Women stand for panchayat elections, sit on councils and are also extremely hardworking within the house.

I recall my grandfather’s anecdote regarding a colleague’s visit to Ima Market and his shock at witnessing the slapping of a persistent and unruly bargainer by a woman stall-keeper. Manipuri women are the no-nonsense kind. But they are also very gentle with children and very religious. In Ima Market one may see women like Bilasini Devi who are there to eke out a living sitting side by side with well-off women trying to kill boredom. Whatever the case this is woman-power at its peak.

In a world, particularly a country like ours where dowry deaths, femalefoeticide, discrimination against women and other crimes against women seem to be on the rise, Ima Market stands out like a beacon, a tower of female strength. May the power of women -- the power of the Mother Goddess rise and many more Ima Markets come about.

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