The Woman We Forgot

Today, amid the struggle to survive the Coronavirus attack, nobody is talking about what happened to the market women of Khwairamband Keithel in Imphal, the capital of Manipur who obliged Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s appeal for voluntary closure of the three crowded main markets and temporary market sheds to prevent the spread of Covid 19 in the state.

For months, we have been talking about the pandemic Covid 19, of lockdown and unlock phases, of local transmission and community transmission, of social and physical distancing, of different forms of quarantine and standard operating procedures, and the search for a vaccine.

More than five months have gone by, with bouts of lockdown and unlock taking turns, as determined by the level of transmission. Life is changing in so many aspects, that we are even talking of a new normal.

Even humanity seems to have lost its moorings, as a result of abject fear of the pandemic. What remains unchanged is the open display of opportunism among the political class and power games continue unabated, oblivious to the storm unleashed by Covid 19 and to massive loss of jobs and social disruptions caused by it.

Most importantly, nobody is talking about what happened to the market women of Khwairamband Keithel in Imphal, the capital of Manipur who obliged Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s appeal for voluntary closure of the three crowded main markets and temporary market sheds of Imphal to prevent the spread of Covid 19 in the state.

Right from early times, the Khwairamband Keithel has been the nerve centre of trade and commerce in Manipur and the hub of economic activity. This marketplace has spawned rebellions against the British colonialists otherwise known as Nupilal not only once but twice, and the valour of our women is still celebrated today on December 12. Still today, these market women are always in the forefront of social movements. They feel, they have a special responsibility to the society and the state as well, as every mother would. That is why, they responded so positively to the chief minister’s call for closure of the markets, as a preventive measure. Yet, what have we done to reciprocate their voluntary gesture. No one even seems to think, how life is going on for them. The market is not only about bread and butter to them. The marketplace is their social life. Some say, it is not so much about the trading activity but the social interactions they engage in, which attracts them to Khwairamband Keithel every day. News and happenings from every nook and corner are shared between these market women, and it invokes their appetite. In a way, they have become addicted to such a lifestyle. Now as the marketplace is closed, they are suffering not only in terms of daily income but socially also. For months, their pain and suffering would have been unimaginable.

So, something needs to be done to compensate and console these impoverished and forgotten women whose world has been torn apart at the seams. We had seen the state responding to the distress call of entrepreneurs and MSMEs by making banks give them collateral free working capital, just after the announcement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, which was timely and laudable. But somehow, the case of market women seems to have been forgotten in the maze of Coronavirus. Nobody seems to flag the issue of these women also.

Rumblings within the ranks of these market women have already been felt in certain quarters. Lest we pay heed to these rumblings, it may explode any day. Mark our words.

First Published:Aug. 8, 2020, 6:31 a.m.