Imphal: The iconic Ima Keithel (Mother’s market) in Imphal has been the pride of Manipur supported with a long history as the commercial hub playing a vital role in the lives of women of the state. Owing to the sudden surge in COVID-19 positive cases, however, the market has been temporarily shuttered for a second time, leaving the women traders in darkness once again.

The over 4,000 women traders at the Ima Keithel now fear for their livelihoods even as they are yet to recover from the economic losses suffered during the first lockdown in 2020 and the unprecedented closure of the market that lasted about 11 months. The market was reopened on February 15, 2021, to be closed down again on April 21 for 10 days as one of the measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Manipur.

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It may be noted that soon after the government ordered the closure of the Ima Keithel due to the spread COVID-19 cases, a scuffle broke out between the women vendors and the police, as the former termed the closure imposition ‘biased and hasty’.

Khoirum Shanti, 55, who has been selling tea and local snacks at the market for over 30 years, told EastMojo the government’s decision was biased and hasty. A mother of six, Shati said the government should allow women vendors to sell their products on a rotational basis to maintain social distancing instead of completely shutting down the market.

“Instead of total closure of the market, I would like to appeal to the government to let us open the market on a rotational basis, just like the Paona Bazar and Thangal Bazar,” said Shanti.

A resident of Lalambung Makhong Khoirum Leikai in Imphal West district, Shanti fears the closure would once again stop the trading activity and force them into another period of economic stagnation.

After the prolonged closure of the Ima Keithel last year, many like Shanti were compelled to borrow money to be able to fend for their families. Shanti had to nurse and buy medicines for her sick husband as well.

Manipur's iconic Ima Keithel shuttered once again
Manipur’s iconic Ima Keithel shuttered once again

50-year-old Tombi Chinganbam, a vendor at the Leimarel Sidabi Ima Keithel, one of the three Ima Markets, is also her family’s sole breadwinner. “For over 20 years I have been selling banana leaves that I get from Noney district. With the market closed now, most leaves are already spoilt before I could sell it.”

Promila, 54, from Bhamon Leikai in Imphal East, still feels the decision taken by the government is for the well-being of the public. But it has badly affected the women traders’ community since many of them have families to run.

“We understand that the government has taken a step as a preventive measure for our well-being from the pandemic. But, at the same time, since many of us are the sole breadwinners, it has left us fending in the dark,” said Promila, who has been selling Manipuri traditional clothes at the Ima market for over a decade.

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