The Indian American community has rallied around a former Apple engineer whose husband allegedly abused her for more than a decade but received a very lenient plea deal earlier this month, in which he will serve only 30 days in jail.
Abhishek Gattani, former CEO of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Cuberon, was arrested in July 2016 for physically abusing his wife, Neha Rastogi. The Indian American entrepreneur, who was initially charged with felony assault, managed to knock his sentence down to “offensive touching,” a misdemeanor, and “felony accessory after the fact.” He pleaded no contest to both those charges.
According to the plea agreement, Gattani was sentenced to six months in jail, but will only be immured for 30 days. The balance of his sentence will be served in a weekend-work program, doing manual labor for eight-hour shifts.
In a lengthy and powerful court statement – which she was allowed to produce only after the plea deal had been agreed to, reportedly without her consent – Rastogi said that Gattani had struck her while she was nursing their six-day-old daughter, saying she was doing it incorrectly. She also alleged that he had threatened to kill her and their daughter.
Rastogi also alleged that she had been flung to the floor by her husband, and kicked in the belly on several occasions. In California, the punishment for felony spousal abuse can range from one to four years in jail.
In an audio recording produced as evidence and first posted by The Daily Beast Web site, Gattani could be heard heatedly arguing with Rastogi over a software bug, and calling her a bitch. In the recording, Gattani was heard slapping Rastogi at least seven times.
“Abhishek, please don’t hit me more,” cried Rastogi in the recording. “Please don’t do this, please don’t do this. Please don’t do this. Please don’t do this. Please don’t do this,” she said repeatedly, while sobbing.
“You don’t want to get beaten up?” Gattani responded, in the recording, “Then control yourself.”
The lenient plea deal has outraged the Indian American community, which has shored up to support Rastogi. San Francisco Bay Area attorney Madan Ahluwalia launched a petition April 19 on change.org, aiming to overturn what he said was a lenient plea deal.
“I was very upset by the plea deal. I felt I had to do something about it,” Ahluwalia told India-West. Five hours after he launched the petition, Ahluwalia had already amassed 500 signatures from people similarly upset by the plea deal. Six days later, the petition has gathered almost 10,000 signatures. It can be viewed online at http://bit.ly/2o5yEh3.
Gattani was previously charged with abusing his wife in 2013, when a postal worker called 911 to report that a woman was being physically assaulted in the street outside the couple’s home in Sunnyvale, Calif. A police officer recorded the statements of several witnesses who said Gattani was “pushing and pulling Rastogi along the sidewalk while punching her with a closed fist in the side and back multiple times.” He was initially charged with felony assault, which was later reduced to a misdemeanor, at Rastogi’s request. The battered woman told police she thought she could still save her marriage and protect their young daughter.
Ahluwalia told India-West the sentence for Gattani should have been much higher, given his previous conviction. Gattani was still on probation when he assaulted Rastogi again in July 2016.
“In this case, they have reduced the criminal charges to something that doesn’t make sense,” he stated, adding: “What constitutes ‘offensive touching?’”
The attorney said he sees incidents of domestic violence quite frequently in his practice, especially in the Indian American community. “There is very deep cultural programming in which one spouse controls the relationship, controlling the bank account, determining how often his partner can see her family. All of this has a very damaging effect on the relationship.”
Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Steve Fein told The Daily Beast that District Attorney Jeff Rosen sought an agreement that would not place Gattani at risk for deportation back to India. A violent felony is a deportable offense, he said, noting that Rosen generally seeks to avoid such deportations.
Indian American community activist Inderjit Singh Kallirai has launched an online effort to recall Rosen. “(Rosen) needs to be recalled because he chooses to accommodate domestic violence as a misdemeanor, so that the defendant can avoid deportation,” he wrote on a Facebook page supporting the ouster of Rosen.
“The issues surrounding domestic violence and abuse are significant issues. They must remain higher profile than the political position of any prosecutor or legislator.”
“In this case Mr. Rosen has put his position on immigration higher than the safety of the domestic abuse victim,” said Kallirai, recalling the case of tech mogul Gurbaksh Chahal, who was sentenced to a year in jail for physically abusing a woman, while on probation for assaulting another. Nine months after he was sentenced, Chahal has still not served his sentence, which is currently being appealed.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch opponent of sanctuary cities, jumped into the fray April 21 to attack Rosen for allowing the lenient plea deal to go through. “Just the other day, it was reported that a local prosecutor in California went so far as to intentionally lower violent and heinous domestic abuse charges against a repeat offender so that the abuser won’t be deported.”
“Think about the message that sends: if you’re an alien and you commit domestic violence, prosecutors will charge you with a lesser crime so you can stay in the country,” said Sessions, stating: “Enough is enough.”
Several anti-domestic violence organizations, under the umbrella organization Raksha, Inc., released a statement decrying the lenient sentence for Gattani. “In arriving at the plea agreement, we are dismayed that the DA’s office apparently failed to meaningfully engage Ms. Rastogi in the process to hold Gattani accountable for his documented and repeated criminal actions.”
“This is yet another example illustrating how the criminal justice system often fails survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Sadly, what happened to Ms. Rastogi is not unusual, noted Raksha, citing statistics from The Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, which reports that 41 to 61 percent of Asian women experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime.
A fundraiser has been set up at youcaring.com to raise money for Rastogi’s attorney’s fees. Rastogi’s friends, who wished to remain anonymous, told India-West the fundraising site — http://bit.ly/2otG2mh — garnered $30,000 in donations in less than 24 hours.
A court appearance is scheduled for May 18.
Meanwhile, local radio announcer Papiha Nandy told India-West she is organizing a peaceful protest against domestic violence May 18 at 12 p.m. outside Santa Clara County Superior Court in Palo Alto.