Suspicion root cause of Keithel chaos!

               THE current bickering between licence holders and women street vendors over vending space in Khwairamband Keithel betrays uniqueness of the market place as the epicentre of many epochal events that consequently attributed to shaping the history of Manipur. Apart from the historic protests by Manipuri women folk against the food-grain export policy during the erstwhile British colonialism period that led to the two Nupi Lals, Khwairamband Keithel, also endearingly referred to as Ima Keithel, had been the testimony about grit and struggle of the women folk to sustain livelihood as well as take pro-active role in many social reformation and politically significant movements. With its vibrant array of textiles, spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, Ima Keithel can be mistaken for any other bustling market places but its uniqueness – in addition to the traders manning its stalls being exclusively women, has been the vendors’ role in scripting history and preserving culture of Manipur. In its 500-year-old existence, the market has long been an important meeting ground, whenever sensitive issues arise, and trading hub of Manipur. Scholars/historians believe that the formation of the market dates back to the 16th century, when Manipur women were left behind as the sole workforce after their men were made to cultivate in faraway lands and fight wars for long. The women stayed back in the villages, working in their own paddy fields, taking care of their households and selling their farm produce in improvised markets, the largest one being the Ima Keithel.

          With Manipur technically reduced to a dependent on food grains and other essential items imported from outside, compared to their independent economic and political status before the occupation by the British rulers, Khwairamband Keithel has been the main source of livelihood for thousands of families. On account of increasing population, contrary to limited scope for finding government jobs and coupled with the non-locals dictating terms in businesses, there has been growing presence of bread earners from economically underprivileged families plying their trades in the streets so as to ensure two square meals a day and sustain education of their wards. Notwithstanding the burgeoning number of licence holders as well as street vendors, disputes and controversies have been the dominant feature in the process for issuing vending permits with allegations mostly centring on favouritism by the licence issuing authorities. The damages caused to two out of the three Ima Keithel sheds in the January 2016 earthquake has been adding fuel to the problem of street vendors for the tremor also resulted in hundreds of licence holders trading their wares at any available space in the congested commercial hub of the state. Further complicating the issue is many groups of women, who were never among the street vendors, reserving vending slots on the concrete slab-covered Naga Nullah previously used as parking lots, soon after the MAHUD minister mulled allotment of trading space to the ‘hounded’ street vendors. Thus bringing an amicable solution to the street vendors’ problem will entail verification of the genuine bread earners and ensure that the vending licences are not issued to those whose objective is to trade the slots at a price.

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