The North East is known for being a predominantly matriarchal society. This is one part of the country where women are truly empowered. Bearing testimony to this fact is the Ima Keithel which has been functioning for close to 500 years now.
This is a marketplace that is run only by women. It is located in the capital city of Manipur, Imphal and is also known as The Mother’s Market. This is the largest all- women market in Asia with over 4000 women putting up their stalls here each day.
How It All Began
This historic shopping complex was born almost 500 years ago when the men from the Maiti Community stayed away from home for days on end while waging wars against the Burmese and the Chinese. Women began to put up stalls in order to earn a living and raise their families. With time, these women became entrepreneurs and this market became a notable part of history. Today, men are not permitted to run a stall here.
Contributing To The Economy
Not only do these women support their families with their stalls but also contribute significantly to the Indian Economy. The annual turnover of each stall ranges from Rs.75,000 to Rs.2,00,000. This is a total turnover of about 50 crores from the entire market.
The Wares Of The Market
You can find just about anything you need in Ima Kathiel. From vegetables and fruits to jewelry and apparel, these women have stalls that sell a variety of goods.
You will also find a strong touch of the local culture with the wares sold in the market. Traditional Manipuri delicacies such as certain edible insects and even foods that are derived from the forests and the local farms can be found here.
These women also sell several traditional Manipuri handicrafts that have several tourists thronging here in large numbers each years.
One very interesting thing that you will see in Ima Keithel is the sale of Indian currency of smaller denominations. These currency notes are sold at prices that are higher than their actual value. The idea behind this is to make notes available for ceremonial purposes for the local people. While banks are available, they are not able to meet the cash demands of the locals. Although it is illegal, people still prefer to buy currency notes from the Mother’s Market.
Braving The Odds
The market has been running for 5 centuries. Needless to say, it has had its share of pitfalls. For instance when an earthquake hit Manipur in January 2016, several parts of the complex were destroyed. The earthquake hit the state in the wee hours of the morning when most stalls were not up yet. So, the women were able to rebuild the market.
More Than A Marketplace
These stalls have been passed on across generations. However, there is more to the marketplace. It is a place where women learn about national and international news. According to music composer, Mr. Tiken the market place became a place to learn for women when formal education was still not available.
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Ima Keithel is also a very popular tourist destination in Manipur. The fascination lies in the fact that the Ima Kathiel has been functioning for centuries without any involvement of men. Run mostly by married women, this marketplace is traditionally significant and one of the most notable symbols of women empowerment.