CORE decries cabinet decision on street vendors

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IMPHAL May 8: The Centre for Organisation Research & Education (CORE) is deeply disturbed by the criminalization of the women of Manipur who are eking out an existence by daily selling vegetables, fish and other perishable consumables on the streets around the newly built Khwairamband Nupi Keithel in Imphal. According to a statement of the organization, the violence perpetrated against these hapless women business-persons, who are exercising their democratic rights, by the Manipur Police is unacceptable.The existence of these women, who have been called “street vendors”, is not a new phenomenon in Imphal. In fact, the first women who came out of their homes to sell and exchange all kinds of goods in Manipur were all “street vendors”, it stated.It has also stated that in the distant past, the ruling authorities established important market places or keithels. From a single Keithel during the British period, the market was expanded and divided into three different markets, which are in existence till today, in order to accommodate larger numbers. Today, the three markets of the Khwairamband Nupi Keithel can seat around 4000 women, it added.The unfortunately termed “street vendors”, who are all women, are those who have not found accommodation within the evidently one-dimensional dispensation of the government of Manipur for many years, the statement charged.These women were evicted several times before by the Imphal Municipal authorities, the last time around six years ago. The numbers of the women who need accommodation in the Imphal market have increased tremendously over the years. The women’s market was further expanded by building additional sheds near the Cheirap Courts complex and along the Nagamapal area, it added.According to the statement of the organization, the Khwairamband Nupi Keithel is the pride of Manipur. The women of Manipur are lauded and saluted on special occasions by the government. The latest fiasco from the present government seems to reflect a cabinet that has very little depth of thought in terms of who they need to consult and listen to in order to arrive at a win-win decision. The “cleaning” of Imphal cannot be at the expense of the genuine needs of the women who have been sitting on the street corners for many years, it further charged. Herding them off to a non-existent imagined marketplace to make place for cars and two-wheelers has only invited the ire of the women and created an enemy.The question is whether the cabinet’s recent controversial decision serves the interests of the wider and longer term interests of this city. Who serves a greater role in our society today? Is it the women selling their wares on the streets or the polluting vehicles carrying owners who are seen to be reluctant to even walk an extra yard to shop? If there is a comprehensive and well-considered modern idea about how to de-congest the city, where is it? Would the government or the Governor be pleased to share this with the people of Manipur? The bundling of helpless but dignified women pursuing an honest livelihood into jail after torturing them in public view in order to coerce them to accept a foolhardy idea and preventing them from participating in governance through strong arm tactics reflect poorly on the government and its plans, and constitute a discriminatory action that violates human rights and women’s rights, it added.The CORE urges the government of Manipur to protect the rights of the women vendors and promote the social and economic market issues of Manipur with justice and responsibility. The jailed women must be released unconditionally, and a constructive and inclusive dialogue pursued, it stated.

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