Holy cow lawsuit

South Asian Post/April 3, 2008

A popular Hindu temple near London has sued Britain's largest animal welfare charity saying it had illegally carried out the mercy killing of a cow that was under the temple's care.

Gangotri, an ailing 13-year-old Belgian blue jersey that was being looked after by devotees at the Bhaktivedanta Manor temple, was put down by veterinarians of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) last December as priests prayed in the temple.

The RSPCA says the mercy killing was carried out in the cow's interest and that it had a warrant to do so. But temple authorities and other Hindu groups accused the charity of behaving covertly and held protests outside the British parliament earlier this year. Gangotri had broken a leg a year before she died and could no longer stand.

A legal notice was handed over to a senior RSPCA official at its headquarters in Horsham Friday, said a spokesman for the temple, which is situated in the West London suburb of Watford and was donated by the late Beatle George Harrison to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon).

"The pretend warrant that they served on us was illegal, incorrect and defective," said Vinay Tanna. "Everything flowing out of that warrant is therefore illegal. They had told us before that they were not going to do anything. This is an issue of trespass," he added.

The mercy killing of Gangotri has become a rallying cause for many Hindus in Britain, who say the cow was being looked after on the sprawling temple grounds and that the killing was unnecessary and insensitive.

"There are theological and legal aspects to our decision to sue," said Radha Mohandas of Bhaktivedanta Manor. "There are flaws in the RSPCA's approach to these kinds of matters. They are only a charity yet they seem to take the law into their own hands. What they did showed a lack of respect towards our religion," he added.

RSPCA spokesperson Becky Hawkes said: "We have received a letter today, though no legal proceedings have been started against us. The letter asks us to admit liability for trespass to land and trespass to property."

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