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Community shocked by mild sentence for domestic violence

Community shocked by mild sentence for domestic violence
May 10
06:12 2017

Neha Rastogi and Abhishek Gattani

SANTA CLARA, CA: Violence of any kind is vile, and usually is reciprocated in kind, except when it is not. We are no stranger to violence…in the battlefield, a fit of rage against being wronged, a retaliation for hurt caused to our loved ones…..Or, as a matter of course when illiterate, drunkards return home to inflict abuse on innocent and powerless women and children.

But what about violence borne in domestic partner situations, between husband and wife, behind closed doors, when the meticulous outwardly appearance belies this heinous truth? It is even more deplorable when this becomes an abusive pattern spanning a whole decade.

It is simply abhorrent when both partners are skilled, educated professionals, gainfully employed in the heart of Silicon Valley! Neha Rastogi has become a household name in the Bay Area by now. She has become known not for her forays in engineering at Apple and helping build world class devices, but for something which she never envisaged….as a victim of domestic violence.

Her story came to be told not through any organization that sought help from, but through the recording capability on her iphone which finally revealed the extent of horror that had become her life, drawing in her 3-year old daughter into the fold. The perpetrator, as is so often the case, is her husband through an arranged marriage, Abhishek Gattani, former CEO of a Silicon Valley tech start up, Cuberon.

Rastogi says that the pattern of domestic abuse has been present since her marriage a decade ago. During one such harrowing confrontation last year Neha began recording the exchange as he mentally and physically attacked her in a calm and collected manner. The listener flinches at the harsh and enraged tone in use when she fails to answer a simple question, “what is a bug” that he keeps repeating in an increasingly threatening manner, and recoils at the sound of the sharp slap that follows nine times during this recording!

The tape is provided as evidence in Gattani’s second felony domestic violence charge in Santa Clara Superior Court in 2016.

It is indeed a sad commentary that such abuse happens in an evolved, forward thinking society under our very noses; it is even more so when the abusers are themselves considered pillars of such society by holding important positions in tech companies; and, for us to continue to allow and enable this well disguised malady in our own backyards would be the worst offence!

The legal system’s workings are a mystery as it seems to allow this perpetrator to get off with a 30-day plea deal…even as a repeat offender. Bringing light to this plight of not just Neha Rastogi, but thousands of other Nehas, several organizations have kicked into high gear to raise funds for her legal fees, to encourage people to sign petitions on her behalf, or to unite in silent protest in front of the courthouse to sway the mild consequence he has been given. The social media is abuzz with daily feeds about the topic, and indeed women and men alike should not rest until justice has been meted.

Reduced charge
By way of history in November of 2013, the police were called for Gattani by a good Samaritan mailman when he observed him pushing, pulling and punching his wife on the sidewalk outside their home. He was charged with felony assault, which was later reduced to a misdemeanor for disturbing the peace and attending a year of anger management classes.

Rastogi herself retracted her charges, and retained an attorney for him in a futile attempt to rebuild her home and provide a nest for her then 3-month old daughter, and hoped for a change in his behavior. She adhered to her cultural upbringing and maintained faith in the sanctity of matrimony.

The abusive pattern of control and brutality however continued with the addition of more mind games and guilt trips, terrorizing her for the next three years, until she had the courage to record the horrific events and go public with them.

Gattani was arrested and pleaded no contest. Once again, the wheels of justice churned in their mysterious ways and granted him a felony accessory after the fact, with an accompanying misdemeanor “offensive touching” charge. As explained by the District Attorney’s Office, a felony accessory after the fact is also a felony, but not violent in nature and Gattani would not risk being deported to his native India.

As a further slap in the face to Rastogi, this consequence has a provision of a six-month jail term, although incarceration would be limited to 30 days, the rest being served through weekend service of manual labor. Other loopholes in the sentencing may even allow Gattani to remain incarcerated for less than 30 days, and have the entire charge expunged if he complied with probation for three years and other terms of his plea.

Such a sentence is nowhere close to the expectation of one to four years of jail time that can be expected as punishment for spousal abuse in California. To add salt to the wounds, the photos of Rastogi’s injuries submitted as evidence are being questioned as they are faint and do not rise to the level of “traumatic condition”. According to the Assistant DA, the prosecutors agreed to a diminished sentence because they would have had trouble proving the charge of felony domestic violence for the cases reported earlier last year.

Is the risk of political fallout so great that the DA Jeff Rosen is averse to enacting the full extent of the law and allow such leniency? No wonder Rastogi feels marginalized and betrayed by the very agency she trusted to bring some justice to her abuser, and documented her disappointment in a four-page victim impact statement read out in court. The presiding judge Allison Danner deemed this statement to have such little impact on the final outcome, that she had scheduled the sentencing when she would herself be on vacation.

Thankfully the pro term judge, Rodney Stafford empathized with Rastogi and felt compelled to do right by her, by rescheduling the sentencing for a later date, June 15 when Danner could be present.
Trivializing the crime of domestic violence has a greater effect than on just the one household under scrutiny…violence against women is being dismissed as non-consequential, and not deserving of the attention to result in a just outcome, further floundering our belief in the impartiality of the law.

What message does this chain of events send to our menfolk? To the young men entering the world of relationships? Does it seem to condone and pardon such behavior? The local Indo American community in the Bay Area has sprung into action with letters being sent to local politicians; offers of monetary help to hire security guards; and more than 4,000 signatures on decrying such leniency and demanding a conviction of domestic violence with jail time and deportation for Gattani as true justice for Rastogi.

Papiha Nandy, a local TV broadcaster and a concerned citizen is also organizing a silent protest outside of the courthouse on May 18 in an effort to make visible the sentiments of a community standing behind a wronged woman. We can only fervently hope that justice would be meted out and Rastogi would be freed from the clutches of her tormentor, and live a productive, happier life with her young daughter.

Archana Asthana



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