Are Women Street Sellers Criminals?
By Rajkumar Bobichand
We are proud of two historical events where women fought against the British rulers – one in 1904 and another is 1939. When 12 December comes every year, on the observation 2nd Women’s Day, all people – ministers, politicians, bureaucrats, the so-called social workers, public leaders, and academics will praise about the roles of Manipurese women for their courage, dignity, moral and responsibility. It was women of Khwairamband Keithel who lead and played major roles in the movement. Manipurese women are praised for their roles and contributions to the economy of Manipur. Manipurese women run exclusive markets not only Khwairamband Keithel but also other markets in all the townships and villages.
However, what is their position in the society particularly attitude towards them by some section of the society, and law and order enforcement agencies of the state? Women have been taking important and indispensable roles in the economy of Manipur starting from agriculture, handloom and handicrafts to selling their productions at nearby markets or Khwairamband Keithel. Selling of all kinds of agricultural, handloom and handicraft and other cottage industrial productions are the exclusive activities of women in the market. This must be one reason why we call Nupi Keithel, not “Ima Keithel” by those who don’t know our society well.
Unfortunately, all women vendors in Khwairamband Keithel are not treated equally. They can be broadly divided into two categories – Permanent Vendors and Temporary Vendors.
Permanent vendors are the licence holders who have permanent stalls in the market sheds.
Temporary Vendors are not entitled licence and do not have a stall in the market sheds in spite of their daily regular activities of selling vegetables, fishes or fruits in small quantity. As they find space at road sides to sell their goods, they are popularly known as women Street Sellers.
Those with large productions of all kinds of goods have their own network or chained system of bulk selling from whom and where to whom. They command the market. On the other hand, some women who come up with their small stuffs mostly vegetables, fishes and fruits normally find a small space and sell their goods braving the heat of sun and rains. Sometimes, Lalonbis who has permanent space in the market sheds get hold of all the vegetables, fishes and fruits from the small sellers at the price fixed by the Lalonbis. Otherwise they are not allowed to sell their vegetables, fruits or fishes.
When the demolished old structures of three major units of Khwairamband Keithel existed too, many women did not get the space in the then market shed to sell their goods. But it was the general hope and belief of the women street sellers when the construction of the new structures were started that they would get a space in the newly constructed market sheds so that they could sell without the harsh of rains and heat of sun.
Unfortunately, the street sellers do not get their pie of shed and still remain street sellers braving the harsh of rains and heat of sun facing the harassments from the personnel of Manipur police.
The police personnel snatch the vegetables, fishes or fruits of the street sellers and they are destroyed by smashing or throwing away. They are also caned like cattle. The police justify their action to regulate traffic and maintain law and order. They are treated in public as they have committed a big crime. These actions of police are too inhumane to see. It is aged old tradition of selling their home produce by bringing to market places. Selling of vegetables, fruits or fishes is not unlawful. Then what makes them appear as violators of laws and traffic obstacles? Is it their fault? Are the women street sellers criminals?
If they get a space in the market sheds, should it be a problem? Why street sellers cannot be accommodated in the new structures of Khwairamband Keithel? Is there not enough space in the new structures of Khwairamband Keithel? Don’t the women from both far off places and nearby deserve a place in the market buildings? Why they are not given a space? What are the criteria to provide a space?
Even though all the spaces available in the new structures are accommodated, the need of a common space where everyone comes and sell still remain. Without a system and structure for accommodation of temporary sellers, the problem will be perennial. Because selling at roadside and open space has been a part and parcel of our culture for many years. The government needs to provide a common space where those temporary sellers can sell and public also can buy. The city planners and managers should holistically develop. Without developing proper parking area and market place, street sellers cannot be treated like this. Public also would like to buy at their convenience if there is no a system and structures. Snatching of vegetables, fruits or fishes from the sellers and caning them like cattle is not the solution. The city planners, managers and the government need to think holistically and plan for the welfare of the people. The present fates of the street sellers are made by the system and structures. The systems and structures needs to be changed.