Ima market: A symbol of women empowerment from Northeast.


The word ima means mother in Manipuri. The Ima market is a symbol of women’s empowerment from the Northeast. Is the largest women’s market in the world located in the city of Imphal, the capital of Manipur which comes under NE. Ima market, also known as the Nupi keithel (Manipuri word), makes it the only market in the world run entirely by women. They do not allow male shopkeepers to sell anything in this market.

In this market, there are around 7000-8000 women, and some of them age more than 90 years. Most of them are the sole breadwinner of their Families.

largest women market
Ye Bhi Theek Hai!

The market was established in the 16th century with countable stalls and people.

Around 1533 AD, a labor system was imposed on Manipur. In this forced labor system, the male of the family has to go to a faraway land to work or to fight wars leaving the women behind. The families found it very hard to survive, so women in the villages took the responsibility into their own hands. They cultivated their paddy fields, weaved textiles, and created several items that they sold in improvised markets, leading to the birth of the Ima market. Dating back more than a century, the all-women market is the first of its kind for many reasons.

The Infrastructure of Ima market: A symbol of women empowerment from Northeast.

  • The market represents its rich culture and history. It is also a symbol of women’s empowerment.
  •  The complex consists of 3 large buildings with pagoda-style roofs. The market splits into 2 sections on both sides of the road.
  •  The building is segregated into textile housing sections and household groceries sections. 
  • The market is managed by the union of all vendors of the market.
  •  There is a custom that to set up a stall, you have to be married at least once. Experts estimate the market’s annual turnover to be around 50-60 Crore.

How does it feel to walk around the women’s Ima market and how it is a symbol of their empowerment?

As you walk around the market you will see a variety of people from all stages of life. Listen to sounds of cheerful banter, and laughter and can experience sweet aromas of fresh local foods filling the air. And as soon as the sun starts to go down the women start packing their stuff and prepare to leave for their household. Ima market is not only a center of commerce but also a symbol of women empowerment from the Northeast. The market inspires females and gives them a platform to become independent and start something of their own. It also is a symbol of equality.

Manipur Market

Ima Keithel: A Symbol of Women’s Empowerment from Northeast India

Ima Keithel has remained the center of life, and identity; more importantly, it is a reminder of women’s irremovable place in Manipur’s history and its economy.

As a native of Manipur, I have seen the woman of the ima market come together on several occasions- to support Irom Sharmila, on a hunger strike demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, to protest against the killing of Thangjam Manorama in 2004.

Ima Keithel stands as a sign of women’s empowerment in the face of untold hardship brought on by years of armed conflict.