Modern society pats its back and takes pride when a factory or a clinic is completely run by women or when a locomotive or flight is manned by female crew only. Yet for some hundred years the Northeast State of Manipur has a market which run and managed completely by women.
Located in the Capital of the State, Imphal, this market is known is Ima Keithel and it is over 500 years old and organised, operated and officiated by more than 5,000 women.
It is Asia’s largest all-women market and it started way back in the 16th Century with a handful of stalls run by women. In fact, the literal translation of Ima Keithal is “Mother’s Market”.
Over the years, and post-Independence saw this market which is popularly known as Nupi Keithal, boom into a bustling happening place with thousands of women traders congregating there, selling small items of the household to textiles, handicrafts, vegetables and meat. With varied fare being offered, this market has become the hub of Imphal’s commercial and economic activity. It plays a vital role in the Manipur’s economy.
Besides, it also acts a centre for information exchange with people from different parts of the State and the country visiting it, enabling the women traders to stay up-to-date with current affairs and socio-political issues.
This market of matriarchs has one unusual rule and that is only women who are married can trade here and this custom has continued over the years and centuries. These married women can take a loan from the union to start a business while repaying the amount over a period of time.
The market opened after a long gap after lockdown due to the two waves of Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier these shops were housed in sheds but the Imphal Municipal Council has built a four-storey building from which the market operates now.