By Shobaraj Yumlembam
IMPHAL, May 30: Around 2000 women street vendors who have been hawking their wares ranging from clothes to household items to vegetables in and around Khwairamband Keithel area have been appealing the government to provide them a proper place where they can sell their wares in peace.
In an interaction with this reporter, N Ningoleima (65) of Heirangoithong said she had been a street vendor since she was 20 years young. Now that she is getting old and is facing various health problems, she insisted that she would never be able to leave her daily way of life: that of coming to the Khwairamband area with to sell a few items. “For long, the Kwairamband market has been a savior for many women who have had to fend for their families. I headed here when my husband passed away leaving behind three children,” she said adding that the Government must arrange something concrete for street vendors instead of hauling them up from time to time.
For the street vendors, the police and traffic personnel are a menace. “All this time, they would only turn their attention to us when they want their palms to be greased. When we first started out as street vendors around 2005, we were never told that we would not be allowed to sell our wares,” adds another vendor who does not want to give her name. She points out, “We were easy targets for collecting money when it caught their fancy. That is how we have been operating in the market all this while and it is only now that we have been totally stopped from selling our wares. Ningoleima chips in to add, “Everybody knows about the Government ban on tobacco products but it is open knowledge that the betel leaf sellers in the Khwairamband area are still operating as street vendors. But it is only us that they use harsh words and force to drive us away,” she adds.
Ibemcha (42) of Yumnam Huidrom is another street vendor for whom the market place has been a regular source of income to aid in running her family. “I became a street vendor 3 years ago to fight poverty. My husband is a farmer and his earnings were not enough to bring up our four children,” she says while going on to add that she could not raise the capital needed to buy a proper stall in the market or even to rent out one. “The irony is that in these three years, I must have spent enough money to have been able to get a stall for myself,” Ibemcha says, alluding to the various money drives rampant in the market area for various reasons ranging from certain market organizational groups to the pay offs for police and traffic personnel.
The demands of the street vendors that the empty spaces in the three main markets in Khwairamband be given to street vendors is still not being heard by the Government as yet. But going by the words of the lone woman Minister in the Government, AK Mirabai, Minister Social Welfare, “Process is underway for land acquisition to construct a women market complex with 2000 seat capacity for both tribal and non-tribal vendors at the site of the Apex Co-operative Marketing Society adjacent to Nagaram and another near Tombisana Girls’ Higher Secondary School. Regarding the appeal of the street vendors to accommodate them at the empty floors of the three new Khwairamband Market complexes, the Minsiter told this reporter that she had informally taken up the issue with the Chief Minister and added that it will be discussed again. She also said, “In my opinion, a vegetable morning market should also be constructed as the street vendors are huge in number. I will be taking this up with the CM as well.”
But till the Minister’s assurances are taken up on the ground, over 2000 women fending for their families would have to continue running from pillar to post for their voices to be heard.They have organized sit in protests including making an attempt at meeting the Governor to air their grievances but were stopped by the police.