On Sunday (November 27), External Affairs minister S Jaishankar tweeted pictures of his visit to Manipur’s Ima market, calling it a “great example of nari shakti (women’s power) powering economic growth”.
“Visited the legendary Ima market in Imphal. A great example of Nari Shakti powering economic growth,” Jaishankar posted.
What makes Imphal’s Ima market special? What historical factors led to its creation? We explain.
What is the Ima market
Ima Keithel, or Mothers’ Market, is an all-women market, said to be the largest such shopping complex in Asia.
According to the website of the Imphal West district, “A unique all women’s market, having 3,000 “Imas” or mothers who run the stalls, it is split [into] two sections on either side of road. Vegetables, fruits, fish and household groceries are sold on one side and exquisite handlooms and household tools on the other. Not far away is a street where beautiful wicker works and basketry are sold.”
Male vendors and shopkeepers are barred here. In 2018, the state government announced that legal action would be taken under the Manipur Municipalities Act, 2004 if any male vendor was found selling goods at the market.
While the Keithel was earlier a collection of stalls, in 2010, the government moved it to the Khwairamband Bazaar, where it has taken a more organised and safer shape.
The Ima Market is centuries-old, and has its origins in Lallup Kaba, an ancient bonded labour system. Under the system, Meitei men had to compulsorily serve some time working in the military and on other civil projects, keeping them away from home. The women, thus, were left to manage on their own, and they developed a market system which is today the Ima Keithel.
According to R Brown, author of ‘Statistical Account of the Native State of Manipur, and the Hill Territory Under its Rule’ (1870), “The general system of lallup is based on the assumption that it is the duty of every male between the ages of 17 and 60 to place his services at the disposal of the state, without remuneration, for a certain number of days in each year. The number of days thus placed nominally at the disposal of the state is ten days in every forty.” Women were exempt from this.
While the system is centuries-old, it had continued till the time of the British. Policies of the British government had interfered with the functioning of the Ima market too, but were met with stiff resistance from the women.
Jaishankar’s visit to the market came as he is in Manipur from November 26-28.