Located in the northeastern part of India, there is a market in Manipur that has something in common with convention in more than one way. The market is not only iconic for being an all-women market, but it is Asia’s largest market run and managed solely by women. This market, located in Manipur’s capital Imphal, employs more than 5,000 women vendors. Nupi Keithel is a market popularly known as Ima Keithel or Ima Market, but it has a history dating back over 500 years.
Ima Keithal means Mother’s Market, and it was founded in the 16th century with only a few stalls run by women. Over the years, the old market transformed into a bustling market full of thousands of female traders after independence. When the number of traders grew and the market flourished, everything from household goods to textiles, handicrafts, and vegetables began to be sold. Imphal’s economic and commercial activities gradually centered around this market. Economic growth in the state is heavily dependent on the market.
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An all-women union manages and runs the market. Only married women are allowed to engage in trade activities in the market according to a tradition that has been passed on for years. At Nupi Keithel, married women borrow money from the union to buy goods for their businesses, and pay it back later. It is said that many people attempted to get the place vacated between 1948 and 1952, but the traders from Nupi Keithel stood up against oppression and injustice. Imphal Municipal Council has developed the market into a four-story building from shed shops. Many women are now setting up shop there.
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