Unending Misery of Women Street Vendors in Imphal

Unending Misery of Women Street Vendors in Imphal

Written By: / Articles / Thursday, 04 August 2022 17:25

The term ‘’street vendor’’ refers to the person who is engaged in selling goods, wares, foods, groceries or day to day use product in the street, lane, footpath, pavement, public park or any public place having his/her temporary construction which deems suitable for any kind of vending activities to be carried out properly. Street vending is one of the common practices in most of the developing countries of the world where the high rate of growth of urbanization is often coupled with lack of job opportunities among the workforce. Hence, street vending becomes an integral part of urbanization in the developing countries where urban poor not only make their living from the vending sector but also provide goods and services at an affordable price to urban dwellers. However, street vending is perceived negatively because of the congestion resulting out of the ever-increasing number of street vendors working in the sidewalks and streets, creating an intense struggle for space among the vendors and pedestrians. There is always confrontation among the street vendors and city authorities or regulators over space for business, conditions of works, sanitation and licensing. The competition or contradiction among the street vendors and city’s authorities led to negotiations with buyers, regulators and also among the vendors themselves. The lack of voice of informal workers is one of the factors affecting hundreds of millions of vending workers around the world. On the other hand, under-representation from the informal women workers also poses a serious problem of gender equality even though the principle of gender equality is widely accepted among the members of a trade union.
There is a rapid increase in the numbers of street vendors in the country due to the lack of opportunities in the rural areas couple with the lack of skills among the labor and shrinking of formal and organized sector employments. Such a trend is also visible in the case of Imphal City where, street vending activities intensified in the early 2000s and increased to around 10000 in numbers at present as reported by one of Secretaries of Urban Street Vendors, Imphal City. It is reported that the average age of the women street vendors of the market is 46 years, where only 3.5 per cent falls in the age group of 20-30 years. Among them, 74.7 per cent are currently married, 22.8 per cent are widow and 2.5 per cent are divorced. More than half of them are illiterates (52.8 per cent), and 4.2 per cent and 7.7 per cent of vendors are higher secondary and graduate passed respectively. On average, daily earning of women street vendors is around 300-1000 rupees. Their earning also depends upon the location of the vending along with the types of the products being sold and season.
Street vendors face different types of conflicts and challenges pertaining to vending zones and also face harassments (100 percent) from different agencies. These problems of the street vendors include various actors such as the urban authorities (Municipality and Town planners), police, the local urban bodies, women licensed vendors, pedestrians, and vendors themselves. In some instances, it was observed that many places around the Khwairamband Keithel where street vendors used to conduct business were cracked down, and eviction is the most common method used by police while handling the street vendors in the city. In order to capture the space for vending, the vendors commonly stay near to their vending spots, which they acquire again, once the police move to another spot. Their return to the vending space is mostly possible by bribing which is also the only method to prevent them from eviction. They collecta sum of amount to pay to the police in order to prevent eviction, damaging of commodities or confiscation which is a common sight in the vending spaces of Imphal. Therefore, in most cases, the contribution to bribery is the preferred option in order to avoid such circumstances in their vending activities. There are also instances of conflict between street vendor women and licensed women vendors. However, such conflicts will only lead to havoc in the functioning of the market where both parties will suffer from the consequences. Moreover, such an incident is not only the first one but many times, street vendors were assaulted and meted out atrocities by licensed women vendors in the past too.
Such behavior of the licensed women vendors also creates an atmosphere where any time quarrelling or even fight among them might happen in the market. Such conflicts among licensed women vendors and street vendors will ultimately have a great impact on their livelihoods. This can be solved through negotiation among them. But one of the most important issues with respect to the IMC is the implementation of national street vendors’ policy act 2014. The act has not been implemented in the city or state and therefore, town vending committee in the city or the state are yet to be formed. As a result street vendors in the city are facing hardships at the hands of multiple agencies. Earlier, as Imphal Municipal authorities had banned street vendors in the main market complex after 8 am in the morning, tension developed between the vendors and the Municipal authorities backed by police and traffic officials and they are told to vend at Lamphel Supermarket campus after 8 am.This goes against the very logic of the term ‘’street vendor’’ the very concept.
The lack of financial assistance is also a main stumbling block among street vendors. Since they are mostly illiterate, the formal banking system is beyond their access. Mudra scheme is provided to the licensed women vendors but the street vendors are excluded from the scheme.So, women vendors prefer money-lenders instead of bank even though they are exploited at the hands of the moneylenders. Therefore the state should make arrangement for small credit system to finance the street vendors. One of the main challenges among the women street vendors is their lack of union or representation. Nearly 70-80 per cent of the street vendors of Imphal are without any union or association. Therefore they become helpless when prolonging eviction of the street vendors takes place. One very important aspect of women street vendors in Imphal is being women. They carry out all the household chores and have tried to attain their activity in time before the presence of the police in the vending areas to avoid any damage or eviction. So, they play multiple roles in their life as a wife and vendors. Though, they work hard to maintain their families from the meager earning from vending, their vulnerabilities and the insecure nature of their informal vending activities pose serious and high risk in their livelihood activities. With regard to the rehabilitation of street vendors, the state government has got it all wrong as they still go on saying that number of street vendors is more than ten times the number of vending space to be made available in the new market complex in the Tombisana High School complex.One remember that the new market complex at the Tombisana High School site near the Old Assembly was constructed to accommodate some street vendors and vending licensees allotted by corrupt municipal authorities in murky deals.
Women street vendors in Imphal are hard-working women folk in the state. They are trying their best to maintain their family from the little profit they make with their vending activities in addition to their multiple responsibilities of being wife, mother in the home and a vendor in the streets of Imphal. But they are also facing many problems at the hands of multiple agencies. Since the National Street Vendors Policy Act, 2014 is not implemented in the state, they are not protected, secured and vulnerabilities and risks are very high. They are not provided with any proper zone of vending activities in case their vending areas are closed down. Therefore, their means of livelihoods at the heart of Imphal is at stake. On the other hand, due to the lack of financial assistance from the state or bank, they are exploited at the hands of the money-lenders with their exorbitant interest rates. Hence, it should be on the part of the state to recognize them and should be included in the policy framework of the state budget to secure and protect them. Their working environment should be made conducive and decent work place conditions should be made available to them. They can be an asset to the urban system once potential to development is tapped through opportunities. They should be included in the policy for the development of the state; only then sustainable development goals can be achieved.
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About the Author

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh is a regular contributor of Imphal Times. He writes about Science and Technology and Environmental issues. Jugeshwor can be reached at: [email protected] Or WhatsApp’s No: 9612891339.

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