The Woman Inc.

Tainted Love

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When is it okay to walk out of a marriage? At what point does self-preservation become more relevant than a so-called value system? These are some of the deep-rooted questions that we as a society need to confront, especially those of us coming from conservative cultures. I outline one such case below.

When one thinks of the Silicon Valley, the thoughts immediately go to technology, entrepreneurship and freedom of ideas. In addition to all the brilliant talent from various parts of the world. (Also sexism and misogyny, but I digress). So it came as a complete shock when a brutal case of domestic violence rippled through the South Asian-American community, a group typically not known for any kind of controversy.

The case involved a high-tech executive, Abhishek Gattani, former CEO of Cuberon and Neha Rastogi, also a technology professional, both based in the Silicon Valley. The abuse was allegedly inflicted by Gattani against Rastogi, his wife from over a decade of marriage. Most of the details are now known, how Gattani abused his wife on various occasions – while she was pregnant, when she was breastfeeding, and also in front of their 3 year old daughter who once pleaded her father to spare her mother’s life.

What is more shocking is that in spite of Rastogi’s testimony, which included three gut-wrenching video recordings from her phone, the sentence meted out by the justice system was not proportional to the abuse inflicted. It was merely a slap on the wrist, where Gattani pleaded no contest to a diminished charge of “offensive touching”., that resulted in a sentence of 15 days in jail, weekend work and no deportation to India. Enraged, Rastogi later said that by not treating the case as a felony, she was betrayed twice, one by the man she had married, and secondly by the judicial system which made her feel like a disgraced victim, even more than when she hadn’t reported the situation.

Reading through the case details, what resonated with me, was the fact that despite being on equal footing with her husband in terms of education, family standing and professional status, Rastogi, like many other women refused to come forward against her abuser, even when the conditions were extremely stacked against her. A mailman who witnessed Gattani attacking Rastogi outside their home called the police, upon which Gattani was arrested, but rather than press charges, it was Rastogi who bailed him out of jail.

This brings me to a deeper issue. Shameful as it is, it is not a secret that sons are valued more than daughters in a majority of Indian society. Armed with this so-called power, certain men are convinced it is their birthright to exhibit superiority over the fairer sex. Men do not call out on each other because they assume it is a “masculine thing” to “be a man” and assert control. In cases where the woman is financially and emotionally dependent on her abuser, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible for her to escape the situation. But it struck me that someone like Rastogi, who did not fit any of these criteria, prolonged her suffering at the hands of her abuser because of yet another taboo topic. Divorce.

Even though nowadays divorce is becoming increasingly common among Indian couples, for a woman brought up in India, with years if not decades of being told that it is a stigma that will affect her family, it is not easy to walk away. At first, it is denial that prevents her, telling herself that these things are common and will go away, that she couldn’t possibly face society if she were to leave. Some women, used to success in their education or professional vocation, find it impossible to admit that they could actually fail at something. This is where they convince themselves that they are the problem, which the abusers greedily feed upon. The pattern is established, the woman looks for reasons to justify her ill treatment while the abuser sees her as the perfect target to vent out his frustrations upon, or blame his problems on. The abuse is not limited to verbal abuse, which itself is inhuman, but physical and sexual abuse. Despite all this, divorce is a word that looms big and large over the victim’s head, that she feels compelled to continue being battered to avoid a tougher situation, which in her mind is a choice worse than death.

One can be idealistic and mouth the usual platitudes – if you have self-esteem, or if you put your child first, walk out and everyone will support you – but the truth is only someone who has experienced this assault first hand would even know what it takes to face day after day, hour after hour, in fear. The magnitude of resilience Rastogi and other women show, is often misconstrued as weakness, when it is anything but. And as long as such perpetrators are well protected within the law, the only hope is that more women will continue to speak out and bring attention to this age-old issue, even as they trade the frying pan for the fire.

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About Anu Mahadev

I am simply, a writer at heart.

One comment on “Tainted Love

  1. N Srivatsa
    June 23, 2017

    Agree with you Anu. Sons continue to be pampered as assets and daughters deemed liabilities in India, despite all the technological advances and education. It’s imbibed since childhood into a girl that she’s earmarked for someone else – viz ., her matrimonial home and except for some communities in Kerala and the North Eastern states, property rights actually vest with the male heirs notwithstanding changes in law. Migration to the US does not change the mentality of most men even if they have a B.Tech and a MBA. American courts would, hopefully, render justice to women.

    Like

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This entry was posted on June 23, 2017 by .
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