Lockdown hits hard on Manipur’s women-only market vendors

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Imphal, March 31: Cutting down on meal portions, skipping breakfast, exchanging vegetables with neighbours are some of the survival tactics that many vendors at Manipur’s popular women’s only market — Ema Keithel — have resorted to in order to tide over the lockdown imposed to curb spread of coronavirus pandemic.
With many of them preparing for just five-day shutdown from March 21 to 25 that was originally planned in consultation with the state government, the 21-day nationwide lockdown has hit hard on these women vendors, who are now getting restless — torn between hunger and fear of getting infected by coronavirus if they ventured out.
“It has been tough, and that would be an understatement,” Kangabam Thoibi who came to collect her items, which were left behind when the market was abruptly shut, told PTI.
Selling bangles, accessories and traditional attire for kids, Thoibi used to earn enough to buy rice, vegetables and other essential items for her family everyday but that has come to a grinding halt.
“As far as rice is concerned, I have managed to collect from the distribution by the state government but I don’t have any money left to buy vegetables. So I am exchanging cabbage that I grow with potatoes that my neighbour has and that’s how we are surviving,” she said.
Thoibi is not alone facing the hard times.
“We have cut down on meal portions that we usually have and no more breakfast or afternoon tea now,” said Thoudam Shanti, who is also the President of a women’s body of the market — Khwairamband Nupi Keithel Sinpham Amadi Saktam Kanba Lup.
By breakfast, she meant a cup of tea with a couple of biscuits in the morning.
Initially these women could understand why there was a need to shut the market due to coronavirus pandemic but as time passes and hardships grow they are beginning to contemplate to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea.
“Earlier, we thought it is better to suffer than die of coronavirus but then with the period of shutdown extended, our problems of basic needs are growing. Many of us are now beginning to ponder which one to choose, die of coronavirus or starve to death,” said Kongrailatpam Pakpi, who is an advisor to another women’s body Kanglei Economic Development Organisation (KEDO).
However, it is not a case of these women not understanding why the market, which is located right at the heart of the state’s capital here, needed to be closed in the fight against the spread of coronavirus outbreak.
“This market is known globally and many foreigners and outsiders come here to buy things. It is very much a crowded area, specially with the distance separating each vendor being just about 30-36 inches. If this market would have been kept open, it would be in total contrast to social distancing that everyone has been talking about,” said Shanti.
However, each day of lockdown is testing their patience and resolve.
“For those who sell non-perishable items like clothes, at least they have not lost money as they are storing it but for those who sell perishable items like vegetables, fruits and fishes they are counting losses for the unsold stocks that they had to discard,” said a vendor, Rani.
These women are hoping that the hard times don’t last long.
“Last night, we had rice with salt added to mashed potato. When we run out of potatoes, we’d have to just make do with rice and salt,” commented K Ibemhal as she collected her items to keep at home till the market opens. (PTI)