Imphal: Eema Keithel, Khwairamband Bazaar

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Imphal: Keithel, Khwairamband Bazaar

Unique women's market at Keithel, manipur

By Mithu Choudhury

NorthEastNewsPortal Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Khwairamband Bazaar, Imphal, Manipur is a marketplace with peculiar smell. There is hardly anyone who does not [need to visit] the market.

Khwairamnand bazaar or the popular name Ima market or Nupi Keithel is the world’s only all-women marketplace and one of Imphal’s main tourist attractions. This is because the most important feature of the market is that 4000 odd shopkeepers of Ima Keithel are women representing the greater mobility and economic participation of Manipuri women.

Not a single man is found selling anything here . Ima Keithel in a Manipuri word wherein ‘Ima’ means mother and Keithel means market. Irrespective of communities and religion, any woman can set up a store here.

Wrapped in scarf-like innaphis and sarong-like phaneks, their foreheads marked with elegant streaks of sandal paste and their teeth stained from chewing kwa (betel), Imphal’s mothers get ready for another day of business. Today, located in four concrete structures in Imphal’s Khwairamband Bazaar, it is one of the city’s unique travel experiences.

The goods sold

You can get anything and everything at Ima Keithel. If in one, corner, a woman is busy weighing a kilo of fish, in another corner amidst the cacophony, a woman can be found knitting and selling freshly made woollens to happy customers. One can easily find items ranging from food items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish and dried fish to local herbs to clothes and woolens, and traditional costumes. Metal and bamboo items are also found in the shops.

The market consists of two main sections -one where the vegetables, fruits and necessary items are sold and the other where the handloom product of the state is sold. Ima market displays local culture, tradition and biodiversity. Products sold here are mostly local products.

History, origin and antiquity

There is no clear indication of the beginning of the market. Ima Keithel or the Mother’s Market has long been a part of Manipuri tradition, by some accounts dating back to the 16th century [with records dating to the early 1900s].

The earliest indication of barter system in Manipur can be traced during the reign of Meidingu Thangwai Ningthouba in 1805. Many markets were established during 1592-1652 in different places for business transaction. Researchers indicated that the Gazetteer of Manipur 1786 indicates that all the marketing of the country was conducted by women in open air and markets were mostly held in morning time.

In between 1948-52, a proposal came from some local rich persons in connivance with the petty alien trades to demolish the existing shed. But women were not outnumbered and were successful in retaining it. Centre for Organisation Research and Education (CORE), Manipur , in a report published in 2005 pointed out that ‘these Keithel as not just hubs of commerce, but also of information exchange and socio-political processes’. During lunch or break times women discuss socio political issues and this flow of information keep them aware and empowered. It won’t be wrong to say that the Nupi Lan or women’s upraising against the British in 1904 and 1939 were organized and conceived from the market places. Thus women shopkeepers here are not simply business women but are leading examples of leadership and revolutionist.

The 21st century

Of late, the 3 (three) Markets in Khwairamband Bazar, namely Ima Market, Laxmi Bazar and Linthoinganbi Bazar constructed by the Imphal Municipal Council have replaced the traditional sheds of the Ima market. Shops are allotted to ‘licensed’ vendors while some women said that an average of 300 single women and widows, mostly the widows whose husbands are killed in fake encounters join the market to earn their livelihood. Most of these women have no license. In such a situation there is risk that these women will lose their livelihood. Several bodies have demanded special allotment or reservation for their community women. Kabui community has demanded 200 shops while Muslim community has demanded 9% allotments in the new complexes.

These small controversies apart , the market will remain a unique historic symbol of women empowerment and women’s leadership in economic development. This is something the policy makers of any country, regions can think of as a model for women empowerment and gender justice in the society.

Khwairamband Bazar(Ima market)

Ningombam Khelbas Meetei

Ema market.png

Khwairamband Bazaar, also known as the Ema Bazaar, or Nupi Keithel, literally means Mother’s Market or Women’s Market. The Ema Bazaar is one of the largest markets run by women in the country. Main items found here include handloom and handicraft products, like earthen pots, knives, shawls, puppets and all kinds of dried fish and vegetables.

This is also one of the oldest markets with its rich tradition intact. Built in around 1533 AD, the amazing Ema Keithel was borne out of a desperate will to survive more than a well planned economical set up. The Manipur kingdom was once doomed by the Lallup-Kapa, which was an old form of human exploitation where men folks were deployed to work in far away paddy fields, which left the women to look after the children. The role of women hence emerged as central and plays a bigger role in the family. The trend of a bazaar run by women had continued even to this day.

In 2010 the new Ema Keithel was inaugurated and was first used by around 3500 women. The older market is still used to this day for selling vegetables. The three storey building designed in traditional Manipuri style was a much awaited one. Even in Manipur the Ema Bazaar is one of the most interesting markets. It is almost mandatory for people from Manipur to usually make one visit to the Ema market before leaving Imphal- to replenish themselves with local delicacies. This bazaar is the heart of the Manipuri kitchen, especially the Meitie people.

Food items found here are strange and shockingly different than elsewhere. You’ll see many wild and cultivated vegetables sold in the market. Manipuris love a fermented dried fish called ngari. It goes well with chutneys. Another delicacy is the bamboo shoot; cooked mostly with pork or even used for a special chutney called ironba.Manipuris have a thing for chutneys and could as well be the main menu at any meal; chutney is a food item Manipuris can’t do without.

Manipuris have perfected the art of drying fish. It takes a lot of skill to do that, without charring the fish. Their skill goes on to the extent of aligning small fish together in pairs. The sight of these small fish stuck together opposite each other provoked a foreigner to come up to me and ask, ‘are these fish born like this?’ I guess people are not used to seeing fish so meticulously dried and preserved. Being run by women the market exudes a homely exuberance. It gives you a strong sense of community. The women folk in Manipur can be a powerful lot during emergencies. The emergency functionary Meira Paipi run by women has stood up for civil rights in the militarized state of Manipur, when people can be shot for suspicion. Women also take on the responsibility of protecting civil rights whenever incidents of army atrocities should arise; which unfortunately happens quite frequently.

ponsibility of protecting civil rights whenever incidents of army atrocities should arise; which unfortunately happens quite frequently.

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