The only marketplace run and controlled by women in the world can be seen in Manipur, a northeastern Indian state. It is the oldest women’s market. Historical facts suggest that the Ima Keithel or the Mothers’ market is 100 years old.
More than 3,000 women congregate to sell fresh vegetables, fish, grain, handicrafts and other household utensils. The uniqueness of Ima Keithel is that one could not find a single man doing business in the market or its vicinity.
All stalls are managed and run by women alone. Ima (mother), Ine (aunt) and Iche (sister) from various community, caste or social strata comes under one canopy of market shed to support the families.
One striking feature is that goods and commodities sold by these 3,000 odd women are mostly local products. They collect from the neighbouring kitchen garden, lakes, ponds, hills and farmlands and handicrafts. Bargaining can be possible in colourful handloom shawls and beautiful cane-bamboo baskets.
Such bargaining will show how hospitable and kind-hearted these mothers are! They will treat with love and care to every customers as their own family members.
Ima keithel is a tourist spot as well as the archealogical site due to its place in the history of erstwhile Manipur kingdom. The mighty British rule India for almost 200 years, but the tiny kingdom remains independent for a long time. It came under the British administrations roughly for a short period of 56 years (1891-1947).
But the beauty and the courage of these women are mentioned in British history and personal memoirs. The Imas (mothers) of Ima Keithel are not business oriented women. They are a leading example of leadership and revolutionists in the history too.
Whenever they feel that the societies need their active role in freedom struggle or any state malfunctions they closed down their keithel (market) and stood for unity.
The world has witnessed two Nupi lal (women’s war) during the British rule in 1904 and 1939 when the government atrocities have crossed its limit. Many died in that war of struggle for their rights. And it continues still to protect their identity and rights for self determination.
Recent years have witnessed a sudden change in the market place as the state government interferes to rebuild it by demolishing the Ima Keithel. The historical site will be no more, but the spirit and the courage of Ima will still passed on from generation to generation.
Here one can see the exact meaning of secularism where women from different religion and community sit together at the same platform to sell valuable local produce.
Come and enjoy the historical sites adjoining the Ima market and spend the weekend at the World War II Cemetery for the British and the Japanese forces who sacrificed their life in Manipur.
You will see the role of Manipuri women by visiting Ima keithel or the Mother Market which is the oldest women market in the World!