IMPHAL: At Imphal's Ima Keithal, meaning Mothers' Market, touted as Asia's largest all-women market run by 4000 plus women, mostly widows and single mothers from the poorest of poor strata, Prime Minister Narendra Modi
is seen as a messiah who is yet to deliver.
Almost three years since the Lok Sabha election, these women from the land of Mary Kom, Sarita Devi and Kunjarani Devi, who feed Imphal's homes, now wait with high hopes as their state goes to polls in a fortnight's time.
These women who toil from dawn to dusk selling perishable and non-perishable goods for every household, from Meitei traditional
dresses to mosquito and fishing nets to handicrafts items to fish, vegetables and fruits chant Congress president Sonia Gandhi's name for giving them the present day RCC market shed replacing the 100 years old open air market seven years back. But, they say in the same breath, they are more than willing to embrace Modi if he spares a moment and listens to their mann ki baat.
"We listen to his every mann ki baat. We hear him speak so much about women empowerment and making lives of the poor better. We urge him to listen to us now and know our hardships. We see hope in him," said young Ragini Devi, a graduate and a single mother who shuttles between her social work as an women rights activist and her shop at Ima market where she sells home made sweetmeats.
She stays with her mother and grandmother and a four-year-old son after her husband left her few years back with their elder son in a
single room house. She is the third generation in the family to follow the tradition of earning livelihood at Ima market.
These hardened women are not asking for the moon from Modi. They said that Modi has opened their zero balance bank Jan Dhan accounts but they are still empty because the promised money is yet to come. All they want is some financial help for themselves and the end to the endless bandhs and blockades, including the current one that has pushed their already pitiable lives deeper into crisis.
Fifty-year-old Sakhi Devi, who has spent more than 20 years in the market selling betel nuts and leaves has been sole bread earner for her family ever since her husband died of illness. "I used to earn about Rs 1000 every day but with the blockade on, I consider myself lucky if earn at least Rs 200 a day," she said.
Her jan dhan account was opened two months back just when her earnings came crashing down due to the blockade. Where do I have the money to keep in my account?" she asks.
She has a single burner LPG connection
at home but there is no refill. There is scarcity of LPG due to the blockade and she cannot afford one from the black market where a cylinder costs Rs 1500. She has only enough money to afford cooking in coal fires. The state government gave her electricity connection couple of months back but her family of four practice working at one room just to keep the power bill low.
Same is the story with 80-year-old Radha Devi, one of the oldest women at the market, whose poverty-ridden life has further worsened with the blockade. "Modi is a good man. Only if he could pay some attention to Manipur and clear the blockade. It has ruined us...goods are scarce and expensive now."
They remember the harder days when demonetization struck the nation, but do not want Modi guilty. "We heard he has done it to curb black money.
It is good but this is a subject of the rich and not us, those who do not have money at all. We faced lot problem with changes as the smaller notes were not available. It's better now," Babita Devi said over the heaps of bamboo shoots she was selling at her shop.
Memcha, Babita, Devirani, Kunjomoni, Subhasini and many other women at the market want to see and hear Modi when he comes calling to campaign for his party at a rally here on February 25, but that would mean keeping the shops closed for the day, which means less money for this month.