Page last updated at 19:10 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

RSPCA sorry for killing sacred cow

By Robert Pigott
BBC religious affairs correspondent

In addition to the apology, the monks will get a replacement cow

The RSPCA is to apologise for the way in which it put down one of the sacred cows at a Hindu temple in Watford, Hertfordshire.

The cow, a 13-year-old Jersey-Belgian Blue cross named Gangotri, had been injured more than a year earlier and was no longer able to stand.

The monks accused the RSPCA of "tricking" them into letting them have access to the cow at Bhaktivedanta Manor Temple and giving her a lethal injection on 13 December last year.

The action led to widespread anger among British Hindus, for whom all life is sacred.

Cattle in particular are venerated, and all the animals kept at the temple in Watford are allowed to die naturally.

Gangotri's ashes were taken to be scattered at the source of the River Ganges, also considered sacred by Hindus.

Hindu monks - dressed in saffron robes - demonstrated in Westminster and outside the RSPCA's headquarters in Horsham in Sussex.

We know that our actions caused a lot of hurt

Gangotri was killed five months after a bitter dispute over the fate of another sacred Hindu animal, Shambo, a bull who was taken from a Welsh monastery after testing positive for tuberculosis.

Monks had to be forcibly removed by the police from a cordon around his stall.

Shambo - who was slaughtered after the monks lost a court battle to save him - sparked particular anger because he showed no signs of the disease.

Monks at Bhaktivedanta Temple accept that Gangotri had been injured, but claimed she was recovering.

Now the RSPCA is to apologise, taking out an advertisement in at least one newspaper serving the Asian community.

The apology will stress the common ground between the RSPCA and the Hindu monks on the need to prevent harm to animals.

An RSPCA spokesman said: "We are apologising for any hurt or offence caused by our actions last year.

"We know that our actions caused a lot of hurt to sensitivities, and we are now looking at how we can work together in the future.

"We followed the law of the land... but that can in the end offend people."

Hindu protesters
Protesters claimed their religious rights were infringed

Significantly, the full statement will express regret only for the hurt and offence caused by the killing of Gangotri, not for the act itself.

The RSPCA insists that its action - backed up by an official warrant - did comply with the law, and it denies using trickery to gain access to her stall.

The nature of the apology is important because it leaves largely unresolved the wider conflict between a contemporary "western" attitude to animal life - in which preventing disease and discomfort takes priority - and the Hindu priority, to preserve life.

In addition to the apology, the monks will get a replacement cow.

They have asked for a Meuse-Rhine Issel cow, a hardy and high-yielding milker from Holland and Germany.

The monks have asked that the cow be already in calf, and say that if the calf turns out to be a bull, it would be used for field work at the Temple rather than being slaughtered as usually happens.

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