ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Urban Tribal Women Vendors of Manipur

Negotiating Livelihood during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown led to the closure of all markets in Manipur, including the Tribal Market Complex in Imphal East. This article focuses on how the women vendors negotiated their livelihood during the lockdown and analyses its impact. It looks at their ability to cope amidst vulnerability and marginalisation against the backdrop of the ongoing economic turmoil and potentially the disease itself, highlighting their plight and resilience.

Manipur is renowned for its “women markets.” The tribal women vendors of the Tribal Market Complex1 are intra-state migrants of the surrounding hill districts of Manipur. The Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Act, 2014 defines “stationary vendors” as street vendors who carry out vending activities on a regular basis at specific locations. Cohen et al (2010) point out that the terms market vendor, street vendor and vendor are frequently used interchangeably and loosely defined across countries and cultures. In some countries, the term street vendor covers marketplace vendors as well as pavement sellers, mobile street hawkers, and home-based vendors. In others, marketplaces are a separate category and may be legal or illegal (Cohen et al 2010: 4). The unique feature of markets in Manipur is that they are run solely by women for women since the precolonial period and this tradition continues. The immense role of Manipur women in trade has been commented upon by British colonial officers such as Brown (2001: 76), Dun (1975), Hudson (2010: 23), and Hunter (1886: 17).

Acc­ording to Bhowmik (2005), the term street vendor includes stationary as well as mobile vendors and it incor­porates all other local/region-specific terms used to describe them. However, in Manipur there is a marked difference between market vendors and street vendors: those outside the purview of licence holders are referred to as street vendors or hawkers and even though granted legal status by the municipalities, street vendors are liable to face more harassment from the authorities unlike the licensed market vendors. As such, the term market vendors has been used in this article to mean stationary women vendors licensed to sell in the Tribal Market Complex. The topic has been chosen given the inadequate studies on tribal women vendors of Manipur in academia unlike the studies on the “Ima market” (women market) or Khwairamband market. Moreover, as Skinner (2020) opined,

Research unequivocally shows that the informal economy is absolutely critical to food security, particularly in lower income communities, street and market vendors reach areas without supermarkets, offer low cost alternatives to restaurant meals, often extend credit to regular customers and sell in smaller, more affordable quantities and even during a pandemic, they can trade as safely as supermarkets as long as they have water supplies and sanitizers at hand.

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Updated On : 24th Dec, 2020

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