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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
'Mothers' sleep rough to save market
By Monica Gupta in Imphal

The "mothers" say they will fight market closure plans all the way

Imphal, the capital of India's north-eastern state of Manipur, is facing a peculiar dilemma.

For more than 200 years it has had a market run by 3,000 or so women known as "mothers".

The market, perhaps the only one of its kind in Asia, is located in the heart of the city. The mothers sell everything, from fruits and vegetables to exquisite handlooms and household tools.

But, for nearly a year now, they have been sleeping out by their stalls every night.

They are protesting against the local government's decision to remove their shops and replace them with a multi-storey building.

Braving the weather

Every day after the women cease trading, they sleep in makeshift beds with mosquito nets, braving all weathers.

Sombholini Devi, a 35-year-old mother, said: "I have been running my shop here for over five years and there are many old mothers who have had their shops here for the last 30 years. We don't want the government to remove our shops."

Ms Devi says the mothers sleep out in fear their shops could be razed during the night to make way for the new building.

They are upset, she says, because the government did not consult them before making its decision.

"The government even issued a tender for the construction of the new building without informing us," she said.

'Replaced by men'

Ibe Chaubi, a senior "mother", said: "If the government goes ahead with its plan, this unique market will be lost forever, because we fear men will start running shops in the new complex. We will then lose our customers."

A
Women have been running the market for more than 200 years

The local authority says the market has become overcrowded.

It points out that it does not have proper toilets for the women. There is also no drainage, so it gets flooded during the rains.

The proposed building would solve the hygiene problems this causes, officials say.

But the mothers say they will continue to sleep out until the local authority reverses its decision.

They are now calling on India's central government to intervene in the matter.


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