Ima Katheis of Imphal, Manipur faces troubled times.
About The Video: There is panic in the streets of Ima Keithel in Manipur, the only market in the world that prided itself on being run by women-only crew of vendors. As the authorities plan to shift the market into newly built structures near the original market place, the women street vendors who have earned their livelihood for years by selling their wares on the pavements of the market find themselves in a bind. Facing the choice of eviction or relocation to the outskirts of the city, they appealed to the chief minister to grant them a space within the new markets. This appeal however is being aggressively contested by the other women vendors who have already secured shops within the markets. The tussle for licences and spots is taking an ugly turn. The authorities appear confused and non-committal about the conflict they have created and the situation threatens to erupt in conflict and violence damaging the progressive and egalitarian nature of the Ima Keithel.
The Community Correspondent says: Mercy Kamei, IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent from Imphal, Manipur says, “The Ima Keithels are part of Manipur’s legacy and pride. ‘Ima’ means mother. The markets were always held up as a sterling example of Manipuri womanhood and womanhood in general. But the government’s rash and unplanned insistence on development has put one woman against the other. They’ve ended up fighting each other for their livelihood. As a Manipuri woman, it is sad and disheartening for me. And as a Manipuri, it is yet another example of the government lacking an inclusive vision for the future of Manipur.”
The Right of the People: The National Policy on Urban Street Vendors recognises street vending as an integral part of the urban retail trade and distribution system. It aims at giving street vendors legal status. The National Policy recommends that the municipal authorities in the cities provide for the street vendors a range of civic services such as provisions for solid waste disposal, public toilets, electricity, water, and storage facilities.
Call to Action: Shifting the street vendors to the outskirts of city effectively kills their livelihood and income. Hundreds of women and their families will be reduced to poverty. As the government aims to build a new kind of modern and multi-platform Ima Kathei for Manipur, the street vendors must be recognised as an essential part of the market and given licences and spots to sell their wares. Alternatively the government could also consider giving the vendors alternate choices for employment and livelihood.
The Ima Katheis are more than just the ordinary neighborhood market. To cage it in a modern shelter and keep street vendors out only makes it lose its essence as a vibrant public space and it becomes more of a regular mall. Preserving the culture, legacy, colour and vibe of unique spaces like traditional markets requires a unique and open vision, one that can be forged by the willing participation of both the government and the people.