Beleaguered as she is, she still stands for the benevolent and provident spirit of Manipur, for the ethics of self determination and self sufficiency. In her capable hands the economy of Manipur prospered. She is not dead yet.
The women in the markets of Manipur are living legends, imitable figures of Imphal City. Ima Keithel ,Khwairamband Bazar, the Golden Market is the only largest market in Asia run exclusively by ladies.. Around 3000 women conduct their business in this market. In Manipuri, Ima means mother and Keithel means market. This market is more than 100 years old. Women whether a grandmother, a mother , a wife or a sister are considered to be Ima’s when they are seated here.
One striking feature is that goods and commodities sold by these 3,000 odd women are mostly local products. They are collected from the kitchen garden, lakes, ponds, hills and farmlands and handicrafts. With no discrimination regarding one’s caste, community and religion, women from far and remote areas of Manipur come to this market to sell their vegetables, herbs, shrubs, grains, fruits, berries, fishes and other local produce. The market is a perfe example of a secular state.
In most families these women are the sole earning members, and have managed to educate their children and run their families by their earnings in the market. For others, it’s more a place to meet their friends and carry on the ancestral trade. Without depending on their husbands, fathers or brothers, they have carved out a path for their livelihood. Self-dependant, financially independent, hard-working, courageous, and spirited – that’s how these women can be best described .
The Imas (mothers) of ImaKeithel are not mere business oriented women. They are a leading example of leadership and have led revolutions in history . Whenever they have felt that the society needs their active role in the freedom struggle or any state malfunctions they have closed down their keithel (market) and stood united in their stand.
This daring attitude and leadership qualities of these women are even etched in the history of the British, who had ruled this tiny kingdom for 56 years.
This market is where they do their business, shop for their weekly goods, listen to each other’s stories, discuss politics, make plans and decide on what to write in a memorandum to the Government. This is where they run their own lives from as well as that of their community.
Whether it is to save the integrity of the state or to protect one from the atrocities of the army or government, they always stand united. They would readily shut down the market and go for sit-in protests or rally to lend their support for any cause.
In the conflict-ridden state of Manipur, these women are torch-bearers of peace and harmony, courage and unity. Neither the inefficiency of the state authorities nor the turmoil in the state can curb their undying fighting spirit. The lines below say it all
“Is the sky higher
He, our father, is still higher.
Is the earth heavier
She, our mother, is still heavier”.
…An old Manipuri Verse.