This profile was last updated in 2005
Manavi, Inc. is a non-profit organization serving South Asian women in New Jersey. Founded in 1985 to raise consciousness on violence against South Asian women, Manavi became the first organization of its kind in the United States. In response to the urgent needs of its constituency, Manavi quickly turned to the pragmatics of providing direct assistance to victims and survivors of domestic violence.
Today Manavi’s mission remains devoted to ending all forms of violence against South Asian women. “We believe violence against women begins before birth with female feticide and extends to murder of girls and women. Between these two extremes lie ideas and actions that include classism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, incestuous abuse, rape, battering, and lack of opportunities. These attitudes, conditions, and behaviors perpetuate the subordination of girls and women in society and engender the different forms of violence that are committed against them.” Ultimately, Manavi seeks to assist women as they empower themselves to be self-sufficient and autonomous.
Programs and Services
In order to meet these goals, Manavi provides a wide range of programs and services including advocacy, crisis intervention, counseling, legal services, court accompaniment, transitional housing, support groups, transportation, childcare, interpretation, English courses, and assistance to gender-asylum seekers. Specially trained staff, most of whom are volunteers, provide these services in culturally specific ways. Manavi also publishes print materials, such as its newsletter and informational brochures on topics such as domestic violence, restraining orders, and youth. Finally, as part of its commitment to the interdependence of South Asian women’s empowerment, Manavi sponsors a project each year in a different South Asian country.
Nonjudgmental, Nonreligious, Nonsectarian
South Asian women include those whose cultural heritage stems from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Manavi, which means “primal woman” in Sanskrit, is “nonjudgmental, nonreligious, and nonsectarian” in its approach. Co-founder Shamita Das Dasgupta explains that, “We have to be open to South Asian women of every religion. We have Hindus and Muslims and Jains…so we have to make sure that we make the space comfortable for all.”
The organization provides services to women before, during, and after violent crises, providing tools for building lives that are free of violence and rebuilding lives that have been shattered in its wake. For example, Ashiana is Manavi’s transitional house that is run with particular attention to the cultural sensitivities and development needs of its residents. Manavi recognizes the particular vulnerability of immigrant women whose “loss of traditional family support, lack of proficiency in English, as well as unfamiliarity with the laws and services of their adopted land keep many South Asian women captive within their abusive situations.”
Manavi as a Pioneer
The critical and pioneering work of Manavi has been recognized and replicated in the United States, where more than twenty other South Asian domestic violence organizations now exist. Manavi maintains a “sister” relationship with all of these organizations, as well as with other South Asian organizations, creating a supportive network for resource exchange. Manavi is funded primarily through support from grants, private and corporate donors, and volunteers.