Manipur : A woman’s world


Ashwini Sunil
Women of Manipur are nothing less than the torchbearers of the society. They play a significant role not only as homemakers, but as breadwinners and bread bringers of the family. Women have been found to be predominant in all fields of society. The concept of a gender specific occupation is not accepted and followed in Manipur. Women have found their way into the nooks and crannies of every possible occupation and have mastered it in their own ways.
The women contribute a lot towards the state’s per capita income. They are given more freedom to conduct themselves in a manner deemed fit by themselves. Women do not shield themselves from participating in societal activities and neither do they hesitate from using their voices to express concern.
Manipur is known to be the only state with the largest all-women market in the whole of Asia. The market is situated at Khwairamband bazaar in Imphal and goes by the name Ema keithel,Nupi Keithel or Mothers market solely run and managed by women.  It is one of the oldest markets in Asia and was started 500 years ago. The market consists of more than 5,000 women holding shop within it and roughly 1,000 on the streets outside the bazaar. It is one of the most important places in Manipur for business and learning of entrepreneurial skills.
The income earned by these women is rather meagre compared to the amount of time and labour invested by them. Women bring goods like vegetables, meat, fish, rice, clothes, flowers, fruits and materials for daily essential use from far off places to sell in the market. There is also a separate market for handloom products and textile materials. 
The women traders all have distinct character traits, self identity and are the pride of the state. They have developed their entrepreneurial and communication skills over the years and are a true symbol of women empowerment for the state. They hold pride and dignity in their job and in conducting themselves in the market setting.The market also acts as a place for exchange of information and daily gossip on the latest happenings within the state.
The women are active participants for justice in the state. Women’s movement groups like the Meira Paibi and Nisha bandh act as the women’s torch bearers of the state and conduct strict vigil around their surroundings. They host and participate in sit in protests, social boycott, general strikes, mass rallies, dharna against any injustice perceived by them in the state. They strongly condemn the misdoings of many miscreants on various issues and are trying to bring about a change to eradicate the occurrence of such events. They act as the guardians of civil society in Manipur and are a true means of motivation and empowerment for the women of the state.
Women of Manipur do not consider any occupation as that to be male centered or a man’s job. There are numerous women traffic controllers who conduct and manage traffic in an effective manner. They strive from morning to evening in the hot sun just like any man would do.  Women do not hesitate in being rickshaw drivers either. They take pride in conducting themselves in such an occupation.
The women of Manipur are equally hard working to support their family and to help boost the economy of the state. They have more freedom to express themselves via media and through movements. The women do not hesitate to participate in activities that they feel would benefit them and their family.
Sports is not a spot unexplored by them. Women add to the glory of the state by participating in sports of different rigour and type and give men a strong fight. The state gives a lot of importance to all types of sports and this does not go unsupported by the parents. Parents willingly send their children to get involved in sports of their choice and motivate them to win laurels for the state as well as the country. They take the necessary steps and efforts to make their child stand out
Women even find themselves in numerous government jobs and at well ranking positions in the state. The Delhi police recently even inducted India’s first ever all-woman special weapons and tactics team (SWAT) for anti-terrorist operations which included 36 women commandos from the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam and Manipur.
The women of Manipur have in their own way contributed a small part towards women empowerment.
More states need to be more women centric in their approach and give women a chance in society. The women of Manipur are the reason for a lot of good that occurs within the state.
They are also the reason women are not afraid to roam around the streets and are more confident in their approach.
The women do not fear to conduct themselves in a way they prefer by dressing up according to their will and not by societal norms.
Manipur is not less than a mini Haven for the women.

The writer can be reached at [email protected]