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Wrapped in scarf-like innaphis and sarong-like phaneks, their foreheads marked with elegant streaks of sandal paste and their teeth stained from chewing kwa (betel), Imphal’s mothers get ready for another day of business.

Their laughter rings out over the hubbub of haggling and footfalls, even above the sounds of vehicles gnashing in the street. Ima Keithel or the Mother’s Market has long been a part of Manipuri tradition, by some accounts dating back to the 16th century. Today, located in four concrete structures in Imphal’s Khwairamband Bazaar, it is one of the city’s unique travel experiences reports NorthEast News Portal.

Khwairamnand bazaar (or the popular name Ima market or Nupi Keithel) is one of Imphal’s main tourist attractions because the most important feature of the market is that 4,000-odd shopkeepers are women representing the greater mobility and economic participation of Manipuri women.

A tradition that is more than 100 years old, the Ima Keithel is a pure sign of women’s equality and independence. Not a single man is found selling anything here. Irrespective of communities and religion, any woman can set up a store here.

The Centre for Organisation Research and Education (CORE), Manipur, in a report published in 2005 pointed out that ‘these Keithel as not just hubs of commerce, but also of information exchange and socio-political processes’. During lunch or break times women discuss socio political issues and this flow of information keep them aware and empowered. It won’t be wrong to say that the Nupi Lan or women’s uprising against the British in 1904 and 1939 were organized and conceived from the market places. Thus women shopkeepers here are not simply business women but are leading examples of leadership and revolutionists.

The market consists of two main sections -one where the vegetables, fruits and necessary items are sold and the other where the handloom product of the state is sold. Ima market displays local culture, tradition and biodiversity. Products sold here are mostly local products.

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