Manavi’s annual Gala. Stand Up, Rise Up, Speak Up: says, Judge Raja Rajeshwari.

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Article was first published in TIO on May 2018

Edited and additional reporting by Adam Rizvi: Manavi, a South Asian women’s advocacy organization is dedicated to empowering the woman with an objective to raise awareness of women’s right, bring a change in society and to end all types of abuse and violence against women and girls. Manavi a committed organization working for all women’s right to live in peace with


dignity offers confidential services they are modified to fit the needs of individuals who seek assistance and is open to all regardless of age, national origin, caste, sex, class. Manavi ( meaning “primal woman” in Sanskrit ) has Ashiana (meaning “nest” in Urdu) it provides temporary residence rent-free to woman and children, whom violence has displaced and uprooted.

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L to R President of Manavi Shruti Devi with the guest speaker Hon. Judge Raja Rajeshwari.

Judge Raja Rajeswari was the keynote speaker at the event, who immigrated to New York from, Chennai, India as a teenager. She was sworn in as a criminal court judge in New York by Mayor Bill de Blasio in April 2015. Judge Rajeswari is the first female South Asian-American judge to be appointed in New York City.
“When I grew up in India, the treatment of young girls and women really impacted me,” said Judge Rajeswari during her speech. “It’s not enough to lend a helping hand. We need to be there for them.”
Judge Rajeswari went on to detail how South Asian-focused organizations can help immigrants navigate the court system. She believes that organizations like Manavi were able to give South Asian women the support they needed to move forward. “We need to stand up, we need to rise up, and we need to speak up,” said Judge Rajeswari.

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New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, the nation’s first Sikh attorney general, was a special guest at the event.
“Manavi has done such incredible work,” said Attorney General Grewal.

L to R Mrs. & Mr. Gurbir Grewal Attorney General of NJ & Adam Rizvi, Editor-In-Chief, The India Observer, TIO.

“They’ve helped women become self-sufficient. We all need to do more to end this scourge of domestic violence.”

Manavi did an amazing job, and the turnout was a testament not only that but to the way in which so many people in our community now are bringing this issues out of the shadows and into the light. The community’s recognition of the responsibility we all have for protecting these women and children is an important step forward, said Dr. Khyati Y. Joshi, Vice President of ISAAW: Inspiring South Asian American Women.

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Two years ago I honored MANAVI’s former Executive Director, Maneesha Kelker, at my annual ‘Champions of Civil Rights’ dinner, because freedom from fear and from the circumstances that women, particularly immigrant women, can find themselves in as a result of domestic violence is one of the crucial issues of our times. That’s why it was so great to see the amazing turnout at this year’s MANAVI’s event and the way in which the community is embracing its work said Passaic County Freeholder John Barlett.

Manavi, group posing with first South Asian-American Judge Raja Rajeswari.

A survivor,(Name withheld) detailed how Manavi’s Ashiana communal living home helped her transition towards an independent life. She explained how Manavi helped her get a job and provided her with mental health resources. “Manavi treats all residents equally and it makes no difference which religion we came from,” said survivor. “Where ever I go, I will remember Manavi and the help they have given me during this difficult time.” Rutgers RAAG, a co-ed South Asian student acapella group, performed songs in both English and Hindi at the event.

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Mr. K. Devadasan Nair, Counsel, CGI,NY

K. Devadasan Nair, the Community Affairs Consul at the Indian Consulate in New York, explained how the Consulate is pushing to help South Asian immigrant women. The Consulate has seen a hundred distressed women cases in the past year or so.“They have come here, their dreams have been shattered. It really touches the heart,” said Nair. “The Consulate is there with them.”

Hoboken Mayor, Ravi Bhalla with Interim Executive Director at Manavi Mrs. Navneet Bhalla “I support all efforts to combat the plague of violence against women in the South Asian community,” said Mayor Bhalla. who was in attendance at the event, “Manavi is at the forefront of that effort.”

Hoboken Mayor, Ravi Bhalla with his wife, Interim Executive Director at Manavi Mrs. Navneet Bhalla.

Mrs. Navneet Bhalla, who is the Interim Executive Director at Manavi, said “Over the past 32 years, Manavi has done extensive work to empower South Asian women and to raise awareness about gender-based violence in the South Asian community. Today, Manavi continues to be a pioneer in advancing the South Asian women’s movement. In order to fully empower South Asian survivors, we need to take a multi-faceted approach – we need to change how communities think and work, we need to change laws and policies and ensure implementation, but most importantly we need to invest in South Asian women’s rights movements and organizations so we can continue to do the work we do and empower women.”said Navneet Bhalla who is an attorney in the U.K. and brings to Manavi an extensive background in law.

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At the event, emcee Joya Dass conducted a live auction of items donated by South Asian businesses. One of the items was an experience—the chance to skydive in N.J. with a group of South Asian women. Preeti Parmar, who works at Nanak Development, managed to snag the opportunity.

Preeti & John Parmar of Nanak Development

“I’ve always wanted to go skydiving and this was for a good cause,” said Preeti Parmar. “We wanted to support Manavi and its initiative.” She and her husband John Parmar was invited to the event by a friend.

I’m really into women empowerment and learning about the struggles that women go through,” said John Parmar. “It was a really eye-opening event.”

Jaya Subramanian, from the accessory company Mi Tesoro, donated an array of items to auction at the event. Mi Tesoro’s artisanal accessories are created by underprivileged individuals.

Manavi was established in 1985 to address the needs of South Asian women in the United States who have been affected by violence. The organization provides culturally specific support services and centralizes women’s needs and interests.

Photos Credit: Ammie Singh, Manavi, and TIO


Keya Balar

Keya Balar currently works in the communications and media industry in New York City and resides in New Jersey. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Media Studies from Rutgers University.

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