*First published by Wear Your Voice Magazine, May 16, 2017.*
After a South Asian tech CEO abused his wife and daughter, he only got a slap on the wrist. She faces ostracism. This has to change.
(Content warning: discussions of domestic violence)
At the nexus of Silicon Valley tech privilege, toxic masculinity and a legal system that consistently fails domestic violence victims we find Neha Rastogi.
Rastogi is a former Apple exec who shone a light on the gruesome abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-Curbelon CEO husband. He only received 15 days of jail time for the misdemeanor felony of “offensive touching,” in spite of ample evidence. This was in the same court where Stanford rapist Brock Turner was sentenced to three months of jail time. Excuse me for a moment while I throw up.
Quartz India compared Rastogi and Abhishek Gattani’s relationship to that of Celeste and Perry Wright from Big Little Lies, and they aren’t off base. Rastogi and Gattani started off as a power couple in the tech industry, a wealthy and model immigrant family — poster people for upward mobility in the South Asian American community. But underneath the veneer of civility, Gattani’s violence against his wife escalated. And, unlike Big Little Lies, Gattani made no effort to spare his wife when she was pregnant, or keep his abuse behind closed doors. The graphic videos Rastogi released — published by The Daily Beast after she reported her estranged husband’s crimes — include his toddler daughter as both witness and victim.
In spite of the video evidence and Rastogi’s horrifying testimony, the courts have given her abuser a veritable slap on the wrist for his crimes. Judging by other cases like this, we can expect that he’ll go back to living his life as usual. Until he does it again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
While domestic violence survivors often face ostracism after coming forward, in the South Asian community, there is a particularly heavy social backlash that often makes a pariah of the woman while embracing her abuser. Divorced women in South Asian society are often treated like lepers, and this adds new levels of trauma and social isolation to an already traumatizing experience. In Rastogi’s case, the leniency of her ex-husband’s sentencing might be read by members of the South Asian community as her failures, instead of framing the situation around the husband’s violent behavior.
The tech world already has its fair share of toxic masculinity issues, and is one of the least integrated industries in terms of gender. South Asian culture, especially in the older generations, has its own strain of toxic masculinity to contend with. That Rastogi and Gattani’s was also an arranged marriage adds several new and complicated cultural elements to the picture. Patriarchy is strong in South Asian cultures, and arranged marriages can often be the catalyst for the worst parts of patriarchal toxic masculinity to manifest. And because divorce is so stigmatizing for South Asian women, domestic violence goes unspoken and certainly unreported. There is also a proprietary issue that emerges, often with certain kinds of arranged marriages, in that the woman ceases to be an individual with rights and dignity, and is reduced to the sub-categories of “wife” and “mother,” who only exists to serve her husband and procreate.
Anil Dash, CEO of Fogcreek Software, tweeted up a storm in response to Rastogi’s testimony, saying:
The fact that that Gattani is also a powerful figure outside the home — per his CEO positions and connections to the wealthy elite of Silicon Valley — only made Rastogi’s position in the marriage even more precarious. And, like many women trapped in abusive marriages, she didn’t have ways out that seemed feasible. Coming forward at all, and reading her harrowing victim impact statement in court for the record, has likely branded her with social untouchable status for life in the South Asian community, both in the U.S. and India. The stigma of having made such private things public, even for the sake of justice, might even end up tarnishing her daughter’s future. Outspoken women are rarely welcomed in many segments of South Asian society, and all the while the men who hurt them remain deified, especially if they have achieved that financial success that is one of the South Asian American dreams.
In spite of all the potential repercussions, Rastogi is a straight-up hero for taking such a huge risk. Every time a person comes forward about abuse, domestic violence and rape, it empowers others in similar positions to do the same. It shines lights on the unspeakable and it puts the shame where it belongs — on the abuser. I stand with Neha Rastogi, and applaud her courage. I hope that someday she will get the justice she deserves for having survived such a horror. I also hope that Abhishek Gattani will pay for what he has done to his ex-wife and daughter, and not just through his 15 days in jail.
The South Asian and tech communities both must declare a zero-tolerance policy on admitted abusers. Women’s lives should matter more than profits or archaic, patriarchal social systems.
There are five main organizations in America focused on assisting South Asian women extricate themselves from abusive relationships: Sakhi NYC, Saheli Boston, Raksha Inc. (Atlanta), Narika Bay Area, API Chaya Seattle. Even though these appear to be city-based NGOs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to any or all of them if you need help and aren’t in one of those metropolitan areas.