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Women are market forces

india Updated: Dec 13, 2006 02:20 IST

If you are in Shillong or anywhere else in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya and yearn for a samosa, the easiest way is to look for a 'kong', Khasi for woman. And sure enough, there is she, peddling anything from tobacco to samosa to rice cakes in her wicker basket.

These kongs, mobile shopkeepers, exemplify the hold women have on local markets across the Northeast. In some areas, the economy is virtually dependent on such enterprising women.

If women control much of the traditional markets like Iewduh or Bara Bazar in Shillong, they hold total command elsewhere in the region. For instance, Khwairamband Nupi Keithel in the Manipur capital Imphal is Asia's second largest all-women market. Apart from being a major market of vegetables, clothes and utensils, this is a living museum of women's culture and their history of struggle in Manipur.

If the Imas of Manipur believe in beginning early in the morning, their counterparts in Mizoram sell their wares when half the world is asleep. Enterprising Mizo women from rural areas on the suburbs of state capital Aizawl begin gathering at specific markets close to midnight and carry on till their stocks are exhausted.

Women from various plain and hill tribes of Assam are major players in traditional 'haats' or markets that are usually weekly or bi-weekly. It is here that shoppers come looking for organic food.

"Women in the Northeast are more industrious than men, managing their homes, fields and markets with aplomb," says Archana Sarma, who heads Gauhati University's Women's Study Centre. Rahul Karmakar

Untying knots

Motihari: Arjun Kumar, Rohit Kumar, Rupwati and Kishan Kumar are all below 10 and are in school — just where children their age should be. But it was a strange coincidence that got them to this school. They are all from a sweepers’ colony in Motihari, Bihar, and they are all married. Volunteers of the local SNS College conducted a survey of the colony adjacent to their college and discovered that nearly 250 children here were married and had never been to school. It was then that the volunteers decided that the children had to be brought to school.

RN Sinha