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The Transcendental Role Of Women In Manipur History

Dr. M. C. Arunkumar & Irengbam Arun

Related Notes of Interest while on this topic

4. 'Women's worth' Still Sourcing From Retail Trade

A scrutiny of the sociopolitical history of Manipur very interestingly scoops up a transcending heritage, as far as the weaker gender is concerned. For, 'Women's worth' over the two-millennia-old cultural history has been sourced from, upheld by, a veritable socioeconomic institution viz. retail trading in Kangla (including handloom weaving). Embodying the main source of competence of womanhood leadership as such, engendered retail trade (and its infrastructure the Ima market) had even assumed the touchstone of the changing tides of history, if not the role of fire-fighter of political upheavals. As a direct outcome, Manipuri females have availed the retail trade opportunity without any social stigma seen elsewhere. In fact, the self-employment generating opportunities traditionally offered to divorcees and widows by retail trade in the central Imphal market place has upheld the gender image aloft all these years.

And in recognition of its gender-upliftment-cum-social-security role, the society has so long assigned a respectable place on those self-sustaining womanhood trying to meet both ends meet respecting the derelict household. Alongside, the Kangla marketplace, now better known as Khwairamband Nupi Keithel (market), has grown in stature, having already withstood the whirlpool of two Nupi Lal (and the associated birthpangs and joys of female gender). While adult male would generally avoid doing any retail trade and devote more to wholesale and distributive trade or such other marketing activities, middle-aged females have generally and eventually developed retail trade as their exclusive preserve, not only in the central market place at Imphal, but in almost all other district towns and the interior either at recognized market places or in street-corner shops. A reference to Table No.11-1 above shows "commercial" engaged only 572 males of 1,09,557 total males of Manipur censused in 1881, against 14,861 females (or 13.3% ) of the total 1,11,513 female population of Manipur. Today females haunt the historical central market square right from early morning till late night, day-in and day-out. With an average age of above 40-years, most of them have been driven by ever-swelling family expenditure, if not by acute poverty, to start earning an average, Rs.100 per diem. An unofficial study estimates their capital investment (circulating) at Rs.767 for 50 samples drawn from Imphal market; hence earning Rs 112 (profit-capital ratio of 1: 7), such ratio of course varying over season, merchandize and weather conditions.

Three sources of finance have been identified for these traders: viz. a)few middle-class families, self-financing; but b) a much larger section financing through Marup or Self-Help Groups (SHG); and c) an equally large section depending on 'shark' loans at high rates of interest (collected daily in the evening by these financial sharks). At present an estimated 30,000 licensed women vendors are engaged in the market square, with a much larger number engaged in the peripheral markets just around the central market, or a little away but well inside the Imphal Bazar. This excludes those engaged in such trade in the ring markets like Lamlong, Kwakeithel, Singjamei, Kongba etc., or even those farther off either at the foothills or still away in the hills. However quite a few money-lenders have been exploiting the lay retail traders by charging exorbitant interest rates. They visit the retailer in the market either for lending or for collecting interest. Their modus operandi are twofold: The first is that where the lender collects the interest on a daily basis after handing over the loan. This is the simpler one to operate. But the other variant is where both the loan ( part of it) and the interest are collected daily. The latter is euphemistically known as 'capital-disappearing'. In this the trader pays out Rs. 50 daily; and after 24 days the paid-up becomes Rs 1,200, against the loaned Rs 1,000. There is yet another shortest version of the credit, where the loan-shark would collect back by the evening whatever lent out in the morning along with the usual interest .

In brief, the terms of repayment and the rate of interest have so hard-hit these retail traders who belong to the lowest income bracket, that they continue to live in abject poverty. Most interestingly, the total loan incurred by an individual would hardly exceed Rs 500. Under the circumstances it is almost inconceivable how any viable lending programme could not be availed. Even if the repayment is discounted in view of the hazards of such loan operation, the rates of interest have proved to be most damaging to the traders. The least rate of interest prevailing would be 20% a month or 240% per annum, which should easily attract social workers and gender-enthusiasts. Naturally, the ideas of Self Help Groups (SHG) have been put across to these activists, as one and the only one means of uplifting the financial desperation of the daily loanee-cum-trader. Worthwhile remembering herein is the individual survival interest of the female trader, as distinct from the collective interest of the society or group. The idea of forming SHG's has been mooted to them so that the problem of unbankability of these borrowers and lack of collateral security could be overcome and directly addressed to under the SHG-Bank Linkage Model, although the leadership seem least concerned with the problem of improvement of lot of an individual or group. Of late, at least hundreds of bus-loads of rural/hill vendors would stream in the marketplace on a regular day, most of which would come to the market or to the shops in the Imphal market for a commercial consideration. But most of these people are commuters getting back to their homes the same afternoon or evening. These commuters belong more or less to the distribution chain which is the supply-line for the Central market-vendors.


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