In Biren 1.0, we see seven beautiful women’s markets in the hill districts of Manipur. The proposal for the construction of Hao Keithel Imphal is CM N Biren-led government’s sincere effort to unite the hill and valley.
The world-famous Ima Keithel used to house a small, peculiar Hao Keithel along 200 meter stretch of road connecting Bir Tikendrajit Road and Old Assembly Road, popularly known as Family Welfare Road.
During the 80s, there used to be an open space that ended at a crossroads between Thangal Bazar and Majorkhul. It had a Sunday market called Hao Keithel – for hill people. They could buy meat, home-brew alcohol, and indigenous fruits and vegetables found in the hills. Farmers from Tamenglong come down to this Hao Keithel to sell some of their farm’s produce like oranges.
The hill people coming from the surrounding hills of Manipur exchanged their products of cotton, chilies, and Lac with rice, salt, cloth, and several articles on Hao Keithel in the valley market. The valley people sold products such as dry fish, rice, veggies, pan, Supari, clothes, ornaments for the hillmen, and sweetmeats.
The present generations are missing the charms of Hao Keithel now. As markets are expanding and traffic-congested, consumers prefer to shop in a convenient market where they could park their vehicles and enjoy shopping without much tension.
Chief Minister’s vision to construct the new Hao Keithel at Lamphel has proved his sincere effort to unite the people of the State. Here, it can accommodate women vendors from the 32 different tribes living in the State, where indigenous products from the hills will be displayed. Several mixed reactions were seen to the proposed Hao Keithel which need to be understood as this project is going to be the biggest challenge for the government.
The facilities like cold storage for fresh vegetables and fruits need to be added as most of the vendors will be from Mao, Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Chandel, Churachandpur, and even Pherzawl and Kamjong.
The accommodation or night halt shelter of these women vendors must be arranged nearby the Market shed as they would find it difficult to return to and fro every day. Moreover, the hospitality of the locality is important.
Even today, there might be several women from the hills who have never visited Imphal. We need to provide them the safety, a warm welcome, and oneness to spread the message of unity among us.
CM N Biren’s idea of such Hao Keithel is in line with our Meetei kings who constructed markets for the people in the past. To cite a few examples, there were ample Keithel constructed by our Kings to improve the relationship among the people and also to facilitate the development and growth of the Manipur kingdom.
Iningthou Khagemba established 10 new markets including the present Ima Market at Imphal City. Other Keithel includes Kha Keithel, Moirang Keithel, Khuman Keithel, Chairel Keithel, Andro Keithel, and Namphou Keithel.
Charairongba too constructed Panthoibi Keithel in 1614 AD while his successors Pamheiba established a new Keithel along the rural Manipur which includes Khangtek Keithel in 1730 AD and Gambheer Singh established Oinam Keithel in 1826 AD, the Langthabal Keithel in 1827 AD.
With Hao Keithel among us, we will be having the opportunity to shop for a variety of products from the hills which are either rotten or wasted before reaching the Capital. It is our responsibility to encourage them and promote the aged-old hospitality to our sisters and brothers from the hills.
According to E.W. Dun’s Gazetteer of Manipur, Meitei women are very hard working. In every household, the wife weaves the cotton clothes for her household and husband. The women hold a high and liberated position in Manipur, all the internal trade exchanges of the produce of the country being brought off by them.
In contrast to this, the women in the hills are the most unfortunate ones, their voices were not so important. Even today, sparing few civil societies leaders and educated families, the hill women are facing discrimination and exploitation in society.
The new Hao Keithel in the Imphal capital must be promoted and we should engage every woman from the hills to come out and contribute their roles in empowering the women. The bonding between the indigenous people will be stronger and deeper.
Our responsibility is to check the exploitation of women vendors who came a long way to bridge the gap which divided hills and valleys in the last few years.
N Biren’s idea of a united Manipur and back to the century-old traditions of oneness will arrive soon. The Hao Keithel is an attempt to empower our indigenous people as well.