Posted on Dec 11, 2007

Last month, Darshana Patel filed a restraining order against her boyfriend who, she says, abused her to the point that she once leapt from a moving vehicle to escape him.

Detailed court allegations show that Manishkumar M. Patel abused Darshana Patel physically and emotionally. She now accused him of slipping her a ground-up abortion pill to induce a miscarriage. However, despite the severity of the abusive relationship, she stayed with him for years even though he is married to someone else.

While she had financial security - she is a doctor who bought him a house – domestic abuse counselors say she may have felt trapped. The counselors also say her Indian culture may have made it difficult for her to seek help.

Darshana Patel suffered two miscarriages in less than a year. According to a criminal complaint, the 39-year-old family physician became suspicious when she noticed powder on a cup containing a smoothie he had given her. She didn't drink that particular beverage but she had eaten food her boyfriend prepared for her since she became pregnant.

The lab test later confirmed the presence of the abortion pill known as RU-486, the complaint said. While waiting for a laboratory kit to test the substance, she miscarried.

Darshana Patel and Manishkumar Patel, who are not related, have a 3-year-old son.

The 34 year old Manishkumar Patel was charged Nov. 29 with seven felonies, including attempted first-degree intentional homicide of an unborn child and two misdemeanor counts of violating a restraining order. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 99 1/2 years in prison and a $92,000 fine.

The defense attorney said his client is not guilty of the charges and has a different version of the events but would not elaborate.

"We will give a vigorous defense," the defense attorney said. "I don't regard this as a given or slam dunk for the prosecution. I think they are going to have some significant proof problems."

Asked why Patel - whom she called "a highly qualified doctor" - remained in an abusive relationship for months, the prosecuting attorney commented "She is also a woman of Indian descent who has grown up in an Indian culture. That cultural overlay has perhaps played on the actions she may or may not have taken. The restraining order she obtained is simply one piece in a story of manipulation and abuse of Dr. Patel by the defendant.”

It was Darshana Patel's concern for her fetus that led her to seek the restraining order. In a letter she filed with the court, she recounted a 2006 incident in which she said she was about two months pregnant but leapt from a moving van to escape Manish Patel's abuse.

Court records also show that Darshana Patel took out a loan to help Manish Patel buy and pay mortgage payments for a house exceeding $3,800 a month.

She has declined comment, and her attorney said that Patel could not comment because of pending court action, including possible civil litigation in the dispute.

Manish had grown angry after she begged him to transfer the home loan into his name and pay his own mortgage, she wrote. He slapped her, bruising her eye and cutting her lip, and left her "afraid (for) my safety and my unborn child's safety," the letter said.

She jumped from the van, which she estimated was going 10 to 15 mph, and walked 20 minutes to her car on a cold winter evening, she wrote.

Darshana Patel said she didn't report the incident because she didn't want others, especially her parents, to know she was seeing a married man.

Cultural norms ingrained in South Asian women compel them to remain loyal even if they're being abused, said Maneesha Kelkar, director of Manavi, a New Brunswick, N.J.-based organization that provides resources for South Asian women who are victims of violence.

Darshana Patel was likely even more vulnerable because the two had a son together, Kelkar said, without knowing details of the case.

Counselor Shobha Rao said South Asian families often pressure abused women to put their families first.

"Even if the women go to their parents, the parents might just say, 'Just try to work it out,' or 'Oh, just have a child, that'll make things better,'" said Rao, a program coordinator with the San Jose, Calif.-based Maitri, which helps South Asian families deal with domestic violence.

Manish Patel, who runs service stations and other businesses, and Darshana Patel had known each other since he emigrated to the U.S. from India in 1998, the criminal complaint said. They began a relationship in 2001 and had a son in 2004.

Darshana Patel said she became pregnant with Manish's child again in September 2006 - a child he denied was his - but she miscarried two months later. The day before the miscarriage, he insisted she drink of glass of milk he said had saffron in it, according to court records.

She became pregnant with his child a third time in August 2007, and this time she noticed how attentive Manish became, the criminal complaint said. He even prepared meals for her, up to the days before her second miscarriage, in September.

Investigators asked Manish Patel whether he used abortion pills to cause the miscarriages, but he would not answer. In a follow-up interview, he admitted giving Darshana "one pill" but didn't say when or where, the complaint said.

Manishkumar Patel is free after posting $750,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is set for Jan. 30.

Manishkumar Patel, who also goes by Manish, is married to Falguni Patel. He filed for divorce on Nov. 13, according to court records and the couple have no children.

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