The most recent outburst by a couple of market women groups against a new group which emerged a while ago draws our attention once again to the politics in Khwairamband Keithel in Imphal.
While past leaders of the market women have retired, new leaders have emerged from among the crowd. So, it is but natural for new groups to emerge in the market politics and whatever differences they might have between them needs to be settled among themselves, and certainly not be a third party.
Sometime ago, women vendors held a press conference and asked the government to formulate a policy for survival of their business. They said, sales inside the three Ima Keithel in Imphal have immensely declined due to the rapid increase in the number of street vendors in the surrounding areas of the markets.
Pointing out that the street vendors outside Ima Keithel are selling the same products which are sold inside Ima Keithel, she said that as a result, customers rarely enter Ima Keithel leading to decaying of fruits, vegetables and fresh fish they sell.
It is true, the business of women vendors particularly in the main women market are suffering due to the street vendors taking away most of their business. It is also true that street vendors are here to stay and they simply cannot be wished away.
In fact, what many of the street vendors are hawking are from the wholesale vendors in the market complex and they mostly survive on whatever profit they get.
Well, it is for the formal market vendors and street vendors to sit down together and work out a workable solution between themselves and it is time they learn a lesson about how governments work.
Governments usually like a chaotic situation where one group or faction accuses each other and fights for space. The government is the proverbial monkey who gets to play the judge and it is through public differences that they get to control everyone.
However, we would like to draw everyone’s attention to the recent controversy surrounding the three women markets about allotment of shops in the newly constructed on the first floor of the markets.
The construction of over 300 stalls on the first floor of the three Ima markets has been completed, but yet to be allotted.
Before the recent general assembly elections people did not see any activity on the first floors and the work seems to have been taken up suddenly in a war footing even before the new government was sworn in.
The ground plus one structures of the three women markets of Khwairamband Keithel was newly constructed in 2013 after several rounds of negotiations between the state government and leaders of market women.
The agreement then was that no vending licence would be given on the first floor and it would instead house basic amenities like banks and other facilities for the convenience of women vendors.
Earlier, there was stiff resistance from the market leaders against the efforts of the government to construct two storied structures due to a general apprehension among the women vendors as they believe politicians and bureaucrats are up to some kind of mischief.
They had seen enough instances of backdoor allotment of vending licences among the already crowded vending spaces and even allotment of imaginary shops in anticipation of new constructions above the RCC sheds of the then New Market and Laxmi Market.
The oldest women market Purana Bazar had semi-pucca structures having steel posts with curved CGI sheet roofs. This 500-year-old original women's market was also the birthplace of two Nupilals in our history and it is considered to be the most important among the three markets.
In these markets, the vending spaces were passed down through generations and it had been in the family members of the original vendors.
In 1993, during President’s Rule, the then Governor General VK Nayar tried to construct new RCC sheds in place of the dilapidated structures. But, the General failed to convince the market women then and had to compensate with a new structure based on the original design but with better facilities like raised and dry platforms, new CGI curved sheets, better lighting and a drainage system.
With time, the market women relented and agreed to the construction of market complexes after several rounds of negotiations and assurances and the first floors remained a free space except for the basic amenities.
Now, the first question which comes to mind is, how did the government manage to convince today’s leaders of the market on the first floor construction.
We understand, a new crop of leaders have come up among the women vendors and they somehow maintain good relations with the present dispensation. Yet, their silence to the new development is indeed surprising given the legacy and spirit of our market women throughout history.
While their silence is deafening, there is a lack of transparency in the manner the new structures were put up overnight and even the proposed terms and conditions for selection and allotment of the new shops is not in the public domain. Something is rotten.