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7 June 2016

Ima Keithel: a market where all the traders are women

The concept of Ima Keithel, or mother’s market, at Imphal valley in Manipur is a very old one. By tradition only women can set up stalls at the market. No man is allowed to sell stuffs here.

Back in the time of the king before the British came to Manipur, elderly women would sell clothes and vegetables at a place designated by the ruler of the day. The men then would be busy out on the paddy fields. So it fell on the women to make money out of the handloom and ethnic accessories that they used to weave at home. A collective market was the best place they could all go together to sell their goods.

The market became a second home for the women. They made friends, shared family stories, discussed politics, ate together and made respectable money. The point was no matter how old a woman was, Ima Market had a place for everyone. No woman could feel defeated. As long as she was breathing she could stand up.

For old women it was a matter of immense pride to be able to walk to the market, spread a rug and sell something, anything.

Even today you would see a grandmother sitting with a bunch of carrots. If you took a closer look you would find she had not come to make money; she came just for kicks. That is why Ima Keithel fills an important psychological need among the senior women in Manipur.

Age is just a number.

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Journalist. Taking a walk in India. | Email to journeybasket[at]gmail | Special thanks to M.S. Gopal | All rights reserved. No commercial use.

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