NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–The women who work or volunteer at Manavi, a non-profit organization created to combat gender violence and abuse in South Asian communities, can collectively speak over 250 languages and dialects.

This impressive set of skills helps Manavi staff and volunteers help over 300 women every six months leave abusive relationships and regain independence. Devangi Raval, the Outreach Coordinator and an Advocate for Manavi, listed some of the more common languages spoken as “Hindi, Ordu, Tamil, Bangali, Telugu, and several others.” Posters and informational packets are printed in as many different languages as possible.

“We work to end violence against all genders and the oppression of society specifically with South Asian women,” Devangi Raval said of Manavi’s mission. Manavi works towards accomplishing this vast task through community outreach, legal programs, and a variety of advocacy services. 

One service offered is a 30-minute legal clinic. This one time clinic is provided by volunteer legal professionals, and helps women see their options regarding immigration law, domestic violence, and the path to independence. For many women who have recently moved to the United States, the legal clinic “helps women understand the rights in this country,” says Ms. Raval.

Manavi also offers a safe home, called Ashiana, for women who need protection from abusers, and assistance to become independent. This nine bed, communal living, unsupervised facility is in a safe and confidential location to assure the safety of all participants.

In addition to all of their work to combat domestic abuse, Manavi also works to combat the problem of forced marriage. A brochure Manavi hands out classifies forced marriage as “when both the bride and groom, or at lest one of the pair, refuses to participate, but is pressured or intimidated to marry. Coercion is always present in a forced marriage.”

Forced marriages deny people the fundamental right to choose their own life partner, says Manavi, and can frequently lead to one partner abusing, shaming, and controlling the other partner.

For South Asian families, the “joint collective structure of family means that abusive relationships are not [always] one person abusing a survivor, but could be a whole family” says Devangi Raval. Raval further explained that due to the close knit community, it is difficult for women who are being abused or who are in a forced marriage to seek help because the community will already know about and have their own opinions regarding the abuser.

For women who are experiencing a forced marriage, Manavi offers the same services they offer to women who are experiencing domestic abuse to help them reach independence. Ms. Raval said that several women who have received Manivi’s services now lead independent and happy lives and volunteer with Manavi in their spare time.

Manavi helps over 300 women every six months, and is doing expansive work in the community to combat gender violence, domestic abuse, and forced marriage in the New Jersey South Asian community.

To reach them, contact [email protected]

Their 24 hour help hotline is 732-435-1414.

Reporter at New Brunswick Today