Ima Keithel: Exploring Asia’s largest All-Women’s Market

Manipur is rightly called as the Jewel of India. The term was given by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Well, talking about Manipur, its capital Imphal is known for its age-old traditions and this sprawling 500-year-old market has long been an important meeting ground and trading hub of Manipur.

Located in the heart of Imphal, the market is known as Ima Keithel, a market where only women can trade. Ima Market or Nupi Keithel (women’s market) is a market run exclusively by women in Imphal, India. It is a commercial center and a popular tourist attraction in the state of Manipur. The market is located on an area of 3.5 kms and divided into three main buildings (47,000, 30,000, 20,000) sq ft.

ima keithel

It has shifted its location within the city of Imphal over the years and is currently located in Khwairamband Bazaar. It was established in the 16th century and hosts around 5,000–6,000 women vendors who sell a variety of products.

Studies suggest that the market’s female-only workforce originated as a result of the enforcement of the Lallup-Kaba, an ancient forced labour system in Manipur that sent men of the Meitei community to cultivate faraway lands and fight wars. The women stayed back in the villages, working in their own paddy fields, taking care of their household and selling their farm produce in improvised markets.

This led to the creation of markets where women played a central role, the most important and largest one being the Ima Keithel.

ima keithel

Some important facts about the market are that no man can do business here. This is specifically for women. Men are only allowed here for shopping. Products such as vegetables, fruits, textiles, toys, fish, spices and utensils are available in the market. It is the largest all–women market in Asia.

Women easily make Rs 6,000-10,000 per day. This market was devastated on January 4, 2016 in a natural disaster. But, steps are being taken to reconstruct it once again.

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