Barely two months after its reopening the three women-run Nupi Keithels and the adjoining Temporary Market of Khwairamband have been closed down yet again from April 21 in view of the second wave of COVID-19 in Manipur.
The order issued by Manipur government’s Home Department on April 21 mentioned closing down of the three markets and the adjoining Temporary Market of Khwairamband for 10 days with immediate effect to help contain the COVID-19 second wave in the state.
However, the same order issued on April 21 by M.H. Khan, in-charge of the Chief Secretary, and Chairman of State Executive Committee of the State Disaster Management Authority allows shops and other business establishments to open on rotation.
One in each three shops located in Galis of Thangal Bazar and Paona Bazar are allowed to open on rotation, that is on day 1 Shop Nos. 1, 4, 7, etc; on Day 2 Shop Nos. 2, 5, 8, etc and on day 3 Shop Nos. 3, 6, 9, etc.
One in each three shops of wholesale and grocery item shops located in Masjid road are also to open on rotation, that is on day 1 Shop Nos. 1, 4, 7, etc; on day 2 Shop Nos. 2, 5, 8, etc and on day 3 Shop Nos. 3, 6, 9, etc.
One in each three shops of Ngari Gali is also allowed to open on rotation, that is on day 1 Shop Nos. 1, 4, 7, etc, on day 2 Shop Nos. 2, 5, 8, etc and on day 3 Shop Nos. 3, 6, 9, etc.
Since the Manipur government ordered on April 21 immediate closure of the only all-women market in India barely two months after its reopening, tension erupted at Khwairamband Keithel area in Imphal on the same day just after the order reached the women vendors.
Strongly protesting against the government order, women vendors pointed out that big shops and other business establishments in Thangal Bazar and Paona Bazar are allowed to open on rotation.
Consequently, it is pertinent to ask why big shops and other business establishments in Khwairamband area are allowed to open while the Khwairamband Nupi Keithels are closed down and what is the rationale behind it?
The order passed by the government for containing the spread of COVID-19 in the state is “biased” in nature, said Khwairamband Nupi Keithel Sinpham amadi Saktam Kanba Lup, President Thoudam Ongbi Shanti while speaking to the media on April 21.
Since April 20 the women vendors have been vending by following the COVID-19 appropriate behaviour such as wearing face masks, maintaining six feet distance and opening only 50 per cent of the vends on rotation basis, the president added.
Almost all the women vendors have not yet recovered from the financial losses suffered during the previous lockdown of more than 10 months and this new shutting down of Nupi Keithels including Temporary Women Market, initially for 10 days, will add to the woes of the women vendors.
Although the government imposed certain restrictions, shoppers crowd the shops in Galis, causing congestion, but in reality, there was no congestion in the Nupi Keithels where the market sheds are open and more spacious, Shanti added.
Appealing to the state government to allow the women vendors to remain open on rotation by maintaining certain protocols or to also shut down other big shops and business establishments in Khwairamband area the president said, “The women vendors are ready to suffer if closing down Nupi Keithels only will contain the spread of the second wave of COVID-19 in Manipur”.
It was reported that a scuffle broke out between women vendors and the police hours after the state government ordered closure of the Nupi Keithels and adjoining Temporary Market.
Women vendors of Keithel Number 1 (Leimarel Shidabi Nupi Keithel) erupted in protest against the order to shut the Nupi Keithels for 10 days.
The women vendors termed the government order biased and demanded that the shops at Paona, Thangal and other markets in Khwairamband area should also be closed down like the Nupi Keithels.
It may be mentioned that the Khwairamband Nupi Keithel, one of Asia’s largest all women-run market, located in Imphal, which remained closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic since March 21 last year was reopened formally by Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren on February 15 this year.
The Manipur government closed down the Khwairamband Nupi Keithels including Temporary Market from March 21 last year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in India as preventive measure even before a single COVID-19 case was identified in Manipur.
More than 3,500 licensed women vendors sit at three Nupi Keithel market buildings in Imphal and each vendor pays around Rs. 90 as a monthly fee.
The closing down of Khwairamband Nupi Keithel for more than 10 months had already hit women vendors and their families directly and also other daily wage earners of Manipur, thereby affecting the economy of the state since Khwairamband Keithel is the heart of Manipur’s agrarian economy. Research findings also has it that the shutting down of Nupi Keithel might have caused a minimum loss of Rs. 3,879 crores to vendors in the last 10 months.
Now, many still wonder why Khwairamband Nupi Keithel including Temporary Market are not allowed to open even on rotation by reducing the number of vendors following COVID-19 appropriate behaviours while the big shops and other business establishments even in Galis are allowed to run their businesses alternatively on rotation. And Khwairamband Nupi Keithel vendors remain victims of the shutting down of the Keithel even though they are not the direct victims of COVID-19.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics