Manipur: Ima Keithel still waiting for proper SOPs to reopen

If the Government does not come up with a systematic guideline or SoP, we shall not be in a position to resume our business in Ima Keithel,” said Laishram ongbi Mema Devi, president of Manipur Keithel Phambi Apunba Lup.

IMPHAL, Sept 27-2020: When people across the country have decided to resume their normal business activities, which was hampered due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Imas (mothers) of Manipur have decided not to do so. Ima Keithel or Ima Market or Mothers’ market is believed to be Asia’s largest all-women market solely run and managed by women. Located in Manipur’s Imphal, this market is a workplace for more than 5,000 women vendors.

It has been more than six months that Ima Keithel has not indulged in any trading activity due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown, which began in March.

“Women who have stalls in this market are facing hardship to run their families. The Government has announced assistance for them but it has not reached to even more than 70 per cent of women, whose day to day life depend on the Ima market. We recently held a meeting with the Government and there we have opposed the reopening of the market amid ongoing pandemic situation. If we do so, it shall be risky as more than 50 per cent of the women traders are above the age of 50. If the Government does not come up with a systematic guideline or SoP, we shall not be in a position to resume our business in Ima Keithel,” said Laishram ongbi Mema Devi, president of Manipur Keithel Phambi Apunba Lup. In her early 70s, Mema has been selling handicraft in the Ima market since 1980.

“I am a BP (blood pressure) patient and due to the lockdown I couldn’t afford to buy my essential medicines. Despite the sufferings, we support the Government. We have requested the Government not to open the market for few more days since there would be chances of community spread,” said Koijam Pratima Devi, joint secretary, Manipur Keithel Nupi Marup.

Meanwhile, State Chief Minister N Biren Singh said that the decision to keep Ima Market closed till September 30 has been taken in a meeting attended by the representatives of the Ima Keithel. Calling it a “consensual decision”, he said, “It was a consensual decision taken after discussing with the leaders of the Ima Keithal, who are with us in fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. The mothers have refrained themselves from doing their business.”

Ima Market, which is an example in itself for women empowerment, has nearly about 4,000 regular licensed women vendors. Interestingly, these license passes down the generation. It is to be noted that men are not allowed to trade or do business in Ima Keithel but yes, they can be used in labour work. Also, one particular shop in this market can sell only one variety of items as this prevents encroachment into others’ businesses.

Considering the financial woes faced by the women street vendors due to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the Chief Minister has distributed loans to a total of 1,269 vendors of different districts to support them in resuming their work. Moreover, 803 street vendors were benefitted under the Pradhan Mantri Street Vendor’s Atmanirbhar Nidhi – PM SVANidhi and 466 regular licensed vendors were provided assistance under the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY) – SHISHU. 

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