| Sankar Sastri with Sita in the Pennsylvania sanctuary. (AP)
Washington, June 6: An American couple in Angelica, a rural town in New York state, is seeking political asylum in India, accusing the US of “government-sponsored terrorism” against them for their attempts to protect cows.
Stephen Voith and his wife Linda have written to the Indian ambassador in Washington asking for asylum after the New York State Supreme Court ordered the couple to remove one cow and three oxen from their property by May 22. The Voiths are appealing the decision at a higher court in Rochester, New York state.
Pending a decision on their appeal, the couple is making arrangements to move the animals and seek temporary refuge in a cow shelter in eastern Pennsylvania run by Sankar Sastri, a retired engineering technology professor in the City University of New York.
The travails of the couple and their proposed temporary refuge at Sastri’s non-profit organisation, Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary Inc, are drawing attention once again to an issue which is periodically volatile in America: cow protection.
Some time ago, McDonald’s was dragged to court by an Indian-American lawyer who accused the fast food giant of using ingredients from beef in French fries purportedly sold in the US as vegetarian food.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), a non-governmental organisation, has been holding periodic protests across American cities and in front of Indian diplomatic missions in the US to protest against the treatment of cows in India and elsewhere.
The saga of the Voiths began soon after they bought their two-and-a-half acre property in 1999. Local law requires a minimum of 10 acres before a permit can be acquired to keep farm animals.
The Voiths promptly leased 10 more acres nearby, but their neighbours and others who have taken them to court complain that the couple keeps the cows and their lone goat in the backyard most of the time and that they use public roads to take the animals to the leased land.
Voith, 47, is a devotee of the Hare Krishna Movement and has adopted two children from Calcutta. His wife, too, is a convert to Hinduism.
Talking to The Telegraph about the sequence of events which have led to his asylum request, Voith complained that Hindus have nowhere to go when they are persecuted. “The Jews can go to Israel, the Muslims go to Mecca. India should open its arm to American Hindus,” he said.
In a long conversation, Voith complained of harassment by the state machinery and violence against his property by intolerant residents of Angelica.
If there is no response to his request to the ambassador in Washington, the couple plans to approach Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whom Voith praised for his efforts to protect cows.
When Sastri heard about their predicament, he met the Voiths and offered to give shelter to their animals. A meeting resulted in a decision that the entire family will move to Sastri’s 42-acre sanctuary for cows in Bangor, Pennsylvania.
Sastri, who studied at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and at Columbia University in New York, retired as dean of the New York City Technical College.
In November 2001, he set up his sanctuary for cows. He has nine of them now, one donated by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, two by a Buddhist monk in New York, two by a Hare Krishna devotee and one by a high school student. He has one other cow which has given birth to two calves.
Except for the one donated by Saraswati – who has promised to donate one animal every year – all others were rescued from slaughter houses. “The high school student spent $250 of her money to rescue Sita (shown in the picture) from the abattoir,” Sastri told The Telegraph.
In addition to the cows, he has a tailless cat and a deaf and blind dog in his shelter. “Hinduism stresses kindness to all living beings,” Sastri said.