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Legal Program – Sumantrana


Manavi’s Legal Advocacy Program – 2015

Manavi provides vital legal services to battered and sexually abused South Asian women in New Jersey. In a culturally and linguistically sensitive surrounding, South Asian women, who are socialized to avoid legal recourses, are encouraged and supported to seek legal justice. Manavi’s legal advocacy program, Sumantrana (meaning ‘good advice’ in Sanskrit), emerged organically in 1997 from the articulated needs of battered and sexually abused women who sought help from the organization. The program consists of the following activities:

Legal Clinics

The legal clinic is designed for women who have experienced domestic and/or sexual abuse, stalking, trafficking, or other forms of violence. At a clinic, survivors may consult free of charge with attorneys about Restraining Order, divorce, housing issues, child custody, immigration, and various other legal needs. When women seek help from Manavi’s legal clinic, they are interviewed to complete an intake and then slotted for 35 to 45 minutes of consultation time with an attorney. At least one (1) volunteer attorney specializing in family law and/or immigration law is present at each clinic for consultation. To prepare the consulting attorneys, a synopsis of each woman’s intake information and the questions she seeks legal advice on are provided ahead of time. At the end of each clinic, participating attorneys and the women who sought consultation provide formal feedback to Manavi. Each legal clinic is approximately three (3) hours long and can accommodate up to six (6) appointments.

Manavi currently runs three (3) legal clinics per month in three (3) New Jersey sites: New Brunswick, Jersey City, and Paterson. Manavi’s free legal clinic services are directed toward low and/or no income South Asian women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence, trafficking, and stalking. However, the legal needs that these women bring to the clinic go beyond their immediate victimization and include issues such as housing, child custody, public assistance, and residency status. At the clinic, women receive legal consultation from volunteer attorneys to decide on the legal options they wish to pursue.

Note: Manavi does not have the capacity to provide legal representation to survivors.

Immigration Services: Manavi’s special legal initiative, Zamin (meaning “ground” in Urdu), specifically addresses legal residency issues of sexually assaulted and battered immigrant women. This is an innovative project that links South Asia scholars, battered women, and their attorneys to develop legal briefs for the petitioners. Zamin has been operational since 1997 and has provided legal relief to numerous immigrant battered women. Under this program, women on derivative or sponsored visas are assisted with Battered Spouse Waiver, VAWA Self Petition, U and T visas, EAD, and gender based asylum. Zamin has expanded to include legal services to transnationally abandoned women, a growing problem in the South Asian community.

Court Accompaniment: Sumantrana encompasses the program of court accompaniment for poor women who are pursuing legal recourses. Accompanying battered and sexually violated women to court is an extremely important part of the Manavi’s legal advocacy work. The overwhelming majority of women who seek assistance from Manavi are unfamiliar with the legal system of this country and ignorant about court proceedings. Furthermore, they are frequently unable to navigate the legal system due to lack of English proficiency. This difficulty with the legal system may be even more intense for the recently migrated communities such as the Bangladeshi community in Paterson. Manavi’s legal coordinator and volunteer legal advocates provide the critical service of accompanying women to court and helping them understand and negotiate legal processes. As women decide to follow legal recourses, Manavi provides accompaniment to help them navigate the court system with confidence. In addition, Manavi provides legal information to women verbally and through a Know Your Rights booklet to facilitate their decisions.

Legal Referral: Manavi collaborates with New Jersey’s legal services and refers survivors to these agencies for Restraining Order, divorce, child support, housing and eviction, immigration, U & T visas, and VAWA self-petition cases.

Expert Testimony: Defense as well as prosecuting attorneys frequently request Manavi to provide expert testimony in court in criminal, civil, as well as immigration related cases. Manavi has been instrumental in several gender asylum cases as well as transnational legal litigations.

Emerging Policy/Legal Issues: Manavi has historically taken on new legal issues that emerge in the South Asian community. Since 2005, Manavi has been working to raise awareness about and seek legal justice on two important issues: transnational abandonment and forced marriage. Manavi has facilitated the first case of transnational abandonment where the victim, who resided outside the country, was awarded substantial financial compensation in U.S. Courts.

Legal Education: Manavi has developed several toolkits and brochures to inform and raise awareness in the community about legal rights, proceedings, and options. Manavi frequently organizes workshops, seminars, and trainings for attorneys, advocates, and community on various legal and immigration related issues.

Service Statistics: In 2014, Manavi held 24 clinics where 76 women received consultations. (Note: the stats are incomplete)

Legal Needs: In Manavi’s needs assessment of the South Asian community in New Jersey conducted in 2014, women expressed three (3) top needs: (a) legal representation and services, (b) accessible legal information, and (c) adequate health care. In response to these needs, Manavi is committed to providing continuous legal consultation, court accompaniment, and linguistically accessible legal information to South Asian victims of violence. However, a glaring gap exists in providing pro-bono legal representation to women.

A few Other Components of the Legal Program:

♦  Attorney recruitment & liaison

♦  Analysis of legal issues and needs

♦  Connection with judicial & other stakeholders

♦  Attorney & legal volunteer training

♦  Volunteer management

If you would like to find legal assistance through Manavi, please contact Prashanti at: or call 732-435-1414.