I was forwarded a news article on Neha Rastogi’s story with the caption “why read fiction when real life is equally disturbing”. Neha Rastogi worked with Apple at a fairly good position, she was married for 10 years and was abused right from the beginning. She now has a 3.5 year old daughter who has witnessed the husband’s violent behavior and would possibly be affected by it. What I read rattled me and I couldn’t read until the end. Then I got to know there is a video that she had recorded and presented as evidence. Oh my! I heard it and can’t get over her helpless voice saying “please don’t hit me.”
The first thing that comes to my mind is why would someone so successful and intelligent be willing to put herself through such torture on a daily basis? When someone with that kind of education, financial standing and social independence cannot break away from her abusive marriage, how do we expect any other woman to do the same? In the last few months I have come to know of 2 women who are in abusive marriages. One is staying because she just had a baby and fears the social stigma that will come with divorce. The other says with her average education she won’t be able to support her children’s current lavish lifestyle if she were to separate. I have tried to understand their reasons but they don’t seem convincing enough to me. Since I am not in their shoes I have tried rationalizing it in my head – maybe if they were more secure financially, maybe if they were stronger mentally, maybe….. What struck me most with this news is that when a person like Neha Rastogi took 10 years to finally take an action, how ordinary women would find the courage to raise their voice with their limited resources.
The husband is a beast, a monster in the garb of a human, a disgusting loathsome creature. What makes him worse than all uneducated men hitting their wives is that he is a man who is expected to have some civic sense because he is well educated and worked with the top notch professionals in a progressive country. Education is not just about academics, it also exposes you to finer things in life, makes you aware of the nuances of society and basic etiquette, teaches you to respect fellow individuals and disagreeing with grace, makes you a gentleman from a mere human being. It’s unfortunate to see that education and exposure didn’t teach any of this to the despicable Abhishek Gattani.
Education also teaches one to be strong and independent, to understand what is right and acceptable and what’s not, to learn when to bear and when to quit. Neha Rastogi failed many aspiring girls by not using her education for THE most important thing it was supposed to do – to empower her to be in control of her own life. I can’t help but ponder over the whys and whats. Why did she tolerate it for so long, why did she not separate, why did she bear the beatings helplessly, why did she not oppose and hit back, what was she thinking by bringing a child in the picture, what made her so docile, what was the reason for her weakness and submission to the violence…. The questions bothering me are too many.
As I think about the possible reasons I wonder if maybe our culture is to be blamed for it. Are we teaching our daughters to be ‘just a little bit’ adjusting and submissive, and pumping egos of our sons ‘just a little bit’ just because they are born with a Y chromosome? Are we unconsciously giving them different toys to play with, enrolling them in different extra-curricular activities, expecting different behaviors from them and preparing them for different social roles? Is this what made Neha Rastogi suffer for so long before good sense prevailed?
One may say things are changing and our culture is evolving, but is it really? Let me share a small seemingly-insignificant conversation I had with a college senior last week. So this person was my senior during MBA, is now connected through Facebook but we are not otherwise in touch, nor have I really known him as a person even during college. In relation to something on Facebook we struck an offline conversation. He asked me where I am working these days and I told him I am a full time mom. His response was “Thats cool! And must be the busiest job you’ve ever done.. Lol”. I gave him the benefit of doubt, ignored the “Lol” at the end and replied “Yes it is the busiest and craziest time of my life so far.” What he said next infuriated me. He wrote back “Yeah yeah… Lot of time to read and watch movies… Hectic indeed.” I have hardly had a personal relationship with this man, we went to college together which means we are (or were at that time) on the same intellectual spectrum, he knows nothing about my life yet had a negative opinion he wasn’t ashamed of sharing. Even as an outsider he felt he had the right to judge and comment on my decision with respect to my career and personal life. I felt sorry for his wife, thanked my lucky stars that I am not married to someone who identifies with such thought process and quietly unfriended him. It is not directly related to the case I was writing about but it is an example of the kind of misogyny women in India have to go through every day. Patriarchy still exists and somewhere, to a large or small extent we have succumbed to it. It is the impassive acceptance of it that probably made Neha Rastogi suffer quietly and the deep internalization of patriarchal principles that made Abhishek Gattani assert his superiority over his wife and abuse her.
As I agonize thinking about this incident I can’t help but worry about my daughter. I am raising her to be smart and independent, giving her the best education and exposure I can, but then Neha possibly received the same. How do I make sure my daughter doesn’t let what Neha let happen to herself? How do I make sure she’ll be strong and courageous enough when it’s most required? In this unfair world with its lopsided scales how do I let my daughter out of my sight?
I always thought education is the answer to most social evils. I believed education will empower us and make us superior culturally and intellectually. I hoped education will bring awareness and equality. Today I am sad for Neha Rastogi but feel worse with the knowledge that education is not a cure for animals, that education cannot correct the deeply ingrained social behavior. It is something we need to do at a whole different level. We have a huge responsibility, let’s take that seriously. Let’s raise our daughters and sons equally, and by equally I mean not accepting that girls are softer and more suitable for activities like dancing while boys are stronger and should pursue a sport, not buying dolls for girls and cars for boys because we feel they should play with such toys, not believing that boys are born rowdy so need not be disciplined when they play rough, that girls are not supposed to talk loudly and be the dainty little thing everyone adores. The change has to begin from us. Let’s not create more Neha Rastogis.
If you haven’t read about the case yet read it here https://flipboard.com/@flipboard/flip.it%2F-g9Ogv-silicon-valley-ceo-pleads-no-contest-to/f-b296c17902%2Fthedailybeast.com