It’s a storyline straight out of Big Little Lies: two powerful professionals, a vicious history of domestic abuse, the couple’s child witnessing the violence. But unlike in the TV show, a real-life story of brutal marital violence in the rarified environs of Silicon Valley offers no neat resolution.
The abuse was allegedly inflicted over a decade of marriage by Abhishek Gattani, former CEO of Cuberon, a customer behavior analytics company, against his wife, Neha Rastogi, also a successful Silicon Valley professional who previously worked at Apple. After facing felony assault domestic violence charges in a California court, Gattani reached an agreement with the prosecution and pleaded no-contest to the lesser charges of felony accessory after the fact and the misdemeanor of “offensive touching.” He is likely to serve as little as half of a 30-day sentence.
Three gut-wrenching videos, secretly recorded by Rastogi, were obtained and published by the Daily Beast. They depict an atmosphere where horrifying violence and domestic abuse, even in front of the couple’s then 2-year-old daughter, appears to be perfectly normal. Rastogi herself offered a harrowing account of years of abuse in a statement she read in court to express her outrage at the reduction in charges against her estranged husband—describing among other things her husband beating her while she was pregnant and as she breastfed.
The case has prompted soul-searching for two communities: Silicon Valley, where sexism and outright misogyny are well documented and unfortunately common; and the South Asian American community, where patriarchal attitudes and high rates of domestic violence have followed many families from their countries of origin (Gattani and Rastogi are both originally from India, and had an arranged marriage in 2009).
It’s hard to accurately document the rate of domestic violence in any community, because many victims are unwilling to report their abuse. Still, the high-profile case has shaken many, and started a discussion about violence in the South Asian community in the US.
Even if a community’s domestic violence rates are higher, that can’t explain a case like this, said Ruth Glenn, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. While culture or social environment may have an impact, she said, “these are risk factors but… certainly not the reasons perpetrators of domestic abuse [do it].”
“Perpetrators of this kind of violence are very controlled and know exactly what they are doing,” she said.
Cultural attitudes do seem to have played a role in Rastogi’s reluctance to leave her husband, even after he had earlier been charged with a felony after a neighbor reported seeing him hitting her (Rastogi bailed him out of jail, and supported reducing the charge to a misdemeanor). In India, divorce is stigmatized, and divorced women face higher community disapproval than divorced men.
“I didn’t grow up around even one couple that was divorced,” she told the Daily Beast. “I don’t want a broken family for my daughter.”
Last week, Rastogi read a deposition in court at what was to be Gattani’s sentencing (in the absence of the judge chairing the trial, the sentencing was delayed to May 18): “I feel disgraced by the charges,” she said in court. “Three years of abuse towards our child and 10 years of abuse towards me has equated to 15 days of his life in jail.”
Indeed, the tapes Rastogi recorded seem to show an unrelenting, ongoing assault, and they’re very upsetting to listen to, even for a stranger with no involvement in the case. But is a short sentence common in such a case? “I wish I could say otherwise, but it’s more common than not,” Glenn told Quartz.
“As a society, we don’t treat domestic violence with seriousness,” Glenn said, adding that “if he has power and money, the perpetrator of violence has that much more leeway to get away with it.”
Some reports have noted that Gattani’s case was heard in the same courthouse where Brock Turner, the college student found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, received a six-month sentence, and was released after just three months in jail. But the issue goes beyond a single court: Gattani’s case also is reminiscent of that of Gurbaksh Chahal, an even more prominent figure in Silicon Valley who in 2014 pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence and battery charges, averting felony convictions despite security footage that reportedly showed him kicking his pregnant girlfriend 117 times in a half-hour-long assault. Chahal was able to avoid jail time—only to violate his parole a year later when he was accused of domestic violence against another woman.
Glenn says Gattani’s case is yet another where the victim, Rastogi, saw her bravery in testifying against her abuser rewarded with indifference. “What she received is domestic terrorism,” says Glenn. “She’s left saying ‘I did what I could, and I am still in danger.'”