“Nation forgot Manipur”: Amidst tension, vendors at the world’s first women-run market dispute the significance of the vote

Within the aftermath of ethnic hostilities, the women vendors at the world-famous ‘Ima market’ in Manipur, the only market in the world managed by women, have voiced an overwhelming lack of excitement for the approaching Lok Sabha elections.

The women merchants from several market groups are thinking about boycotting the elections because they don’t think the election is relevant in the current unrest. Their main complaint is that “the nation forgot Manipur.”

An experienced fish seller at the market named Nema Devi echoes the feeling of many when she notes that after months of upheaval, there has been no real change.

“Peace has not been restored or a settlement reached, even eleven months after the bloodshed. We still follow the tenet of living each day as it comes. living in constant terror while carrying on with our daily activities.”

“What will the elections bring about? The 52-year-old Devi, who has been operating the business in the market for more than ten years, told PTI that “the country, the government, everybody forgot Manipur.”

A fruit and vegetable seller named Debjani expressed the general skepticism by saying, “Elections nai chahiye” (elections not required).

The 500-year-old “Ima Keithel” resembles any other popular market at first impression.

Long rows of merchants selling anything from seafood and clothes to fresh fruit, all day long till daybreak.

It is difficult to overlook one distinctive feature, however, as you stroll down its lengthy pathways filled with more than 4,500 shops dispersed across three multi-story buildings and a sea of neighboring tin shacks: every single merchant, without fail, is a woman, a fact they take great pleasure in.

A politician holding a sign during the Monday, July 24, 2023, monsoon session of Parliament in New Delhi, protesting the ethnic violence in Manipur.
EC: Those displaced in Manipur may cast a ballot upon their return.
This year, the state’s Republic Day tableau used the renowned market as its central motif.

Third-generation pottery merchant Priya Kharaibam questioned the point of voting if nothing changes.

“Why do we need elections if everything must continue as it is? What’s going to alter?” She enquired.

In light of this, the Manipur Keithel Phambi Apunba Lup merchants’ organization in the market has decided not to participate in any election-related activities, citing the government’s disdain for the welfare of the people.

“The election’s scheduling demonstrates the government’s disregard for the lives and property of regular citizens. For the last 11 months, the residents of the state have been subjected to a cycle of violence stemming from disputes between two populations.”

“The prolonged violence has caused us great hardship,” said Yumnam Ibeyaima, the merchants’ body’s general secretary.

More than 200 people have lost their lives in the developing crisis resulting from fighting between the Meitei and indigenous Kuki populations, and many more are displaced and living in camps.

Asem Nirmala, the general secretary of Lukmaisellup, a different merchants’ organization at the market, bemoaned the lack of government response to the protracted issue and emphasized the pressing need for answers rather than elections.

“The moment for answers is now. Elections are not appropriate at this time. The timing of the implementation of these surveys is completely off.”

We are debating whether to cast a united vote against the ruling party or abstain from voting altogether in order to allow other parties an opportunity to try to restore peace. She told PTI, “I am attempting to counsel the women in the market, but they are not enthusiastic about voting.”

A number of businessmen are at a loss as to whether to cast a united vote against the current administration in an effort to bring peace back.

Up to 75 “mothers,” or elderly women vendors from the renowned market, came to Delhi in June of last year to hold a sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar. They were seeking a solution and were against any ethnically-based geographical split of the state.

A politician holding a sign during the Monday, July 24, 2023, monsoon session of Parliament in New Delhi, protesting the ethnic violence in Manipur.
Unrest is caused by the BJP’s decision to withdraw from the Outer Manipur seat.
Fabric dealer Kunjang Phema expresses disappointment with the political process and draws attention to the elected members’ inability to adequately address his or her complaints.

“What makes us choose a representative? As a result, our voices are acknowledged and taken into consideration. When will it occur if it hasn’t already in a scenario this dire? Why is voting necessary? We’re still debating whether or not to cast a ballot, but do we believe in elections? No, replies Phema, a member of the group.

Manipur’s two Lok Sabha seats will be up for election in two stages on April 19 and 26.

The first phase of voting will take place on April 19 for Inner Manipur and certain Outer Manipur segments, while Phase 2 voting will take place on April 26 for the remaining Outer Manipur segments.

Voting from relief camps will be an option for the displaced people, according to an announcement made by the Election Commission.

The endeavor to enable voting for the displaced provides a ray of optimism in the midst of the general gloom as the state struggles with enduring peace and deep-seated turmoil.

The words of the shopkeepers carry a deep sense of disappointment with the way the government has handled Manipur’s situation among the general turmoil and emotions of desertion.

“The administration does not perceive the need for peace in Manipur because it believes as if it is a state apart from India and is unable to see that it is burning. Why should we force ourselves to believe in a system that has deserted us at this critical juncture? We don’t feel comfortable in our own country, even with the massive army presence,” K Dhaneshori said.

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