If you enter Imphal, you will see a different sight and smell a different taste. Yes! I am talking about Khwairamband Bazaar in Imphal, the only all-women run market in the world.
Manipuris were celebrated warriors. Throughout history, they have been known to maintain independence from the surrounding tribes. It was only in 1891 that the British could finally defeat them. It is not only their men who knew how to fight and win, Manipuri society has given rise to powerful women who fought and revolted against the monopolistic traders. And their legacy of revolt shines today as ‘Khwairamband Bazaar’.
This bazaar is also known as Ima Keithel. In Manipuri, Ima means mother and Keithel means market. So, it is known as the mother’s market. There are 4000 strong shopkeepers who are all women. Any women irrespective of her background, religion, or community can set up a store here.
Interestingly, if you walk down the corridors of the market during lunch hour or breaks, you can find the women talking over socio-political issues. What a refreshing change from the saans-bahu gossip we are fed by mainstream media every day, over and over on our television sets. The Imas are not only businesswomen, but they are empowered and knowledgeable about the world around as well. In a report published in 2005 by the Centre for Organization Research and Education (CORE), Manipur, says, ‘This Keithel is not just a hub of commerce, but also of information exchange and socio-political processes’. If we go a little back in history, we find that the Nupi Lan or the women’s uprising in Manipur was organized in the markets against the British Raj in 1905.
The Imas dressed in their beautifully-woven Phaneks, and Innaphis or scarves go about their everyday business each day with their forehead marked with sandalwood. Most of the items found in the market are locally made. But do not make a mistake, you can find everything you want or need here. If at one corner you find vegetable or meat, may be on the opposite corner a lady knits a woolen muffler. From household utensils to jewellery, this market covers every essential product that is needed in day-to-day life. However the main attraction always remains their handicrafts, and the Manipuri dresses sold by the ladies. Haggling does not seem like a bright idea. A 20 % cut on the first price is the most one can get.
By Paromita Bordoloi