Challenge Alert

Lock in $15,000 with your donation by 6:30 p.m.

Donate now

    Severed head left at Pa. Hindu cow sanctuary baffles peaceful founders

    Listen
    (Ramaa Reddy Raghavan/for NewsWorks)

    (Ramaa Reddy Raghavan/for NewsWorks)

    The Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary in the foothills of the Poconos is a 90-acre safe haven for about 20 bovines. It’s home to Texas longhorns, Dutch Holsteins and Brahma Bulls from India. The sanctuary was was founded by Dr. Shankar Shastri, an animal lover and retired college professor who, like many Hindus, believes that the cow is sacred.

    A few weeks ago, the severed head of a cow was found lying in the courtyard of a cow sanctuary near Stroudsburg, in eastern Pennsylvania.

    Concerned Hindus from all over the region recently met with a representative from the Department of Justice about what is being investigated as a hate crime.

    The Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary in the foothills of the Poconos is a 90-acre safe haven for about 20 bovines. It’s home to Texas longhorns, Dutch Holsteins and Brahma Bulls from India. The sanctuary was was founded by Dr. Shankar Shastri, an animal lover and retired college professor who, like many Hindus, believes that the cow is sacred.

    “The most loving and compassionate being in the universe is the cow and as Arubindo said, ‘If you look into the eyes of a cow it is like 1,000 divine mothers looking at you with love and compassion,” Shastri said.

    NWRRcowsanctuaryx600Dr. Shankar Shastri, an animal lover and retired college professor, believes that cows are sacred. (Ramaa Reddy Raghavan/for NewsWorks)

    The cows have Hindu and Buddhist names like Krishna, Sita, Vedanta and Kyo Ho and are taken care by volunteers who live at the sanctuary.

    In late March, volunteer Katherine Davis, during the morning feed time, found the severed cow head.

    “Well, some of the cows had gotten out and we were trying to get them back in on the other side of the street there and we were walking over by the edge of the driveway and I just stumbled on it. It was sitting there for a while. We didn’t notice. It was very strange,” Davis said.

    Davis told Shastri who immediately called 911. The state trooper who responded initially wondered if the cow was left there to be disposed of.

    “That’s when I explained to her, ‘No we are taking care of the cows, we don’t kill any cows, we are a cow sanctuary,'” Shastri said. “Then when she realized that, she called her corporal who said it may be a hate crime.”

    Police say three bullets from a .44 caliber handgun were found in the animal’s head. The cow was not from the sanctuary.

    Neighbors hearing of the incident stopped by to offer fruit baskets and flowers.  “I thought it was a bad joke,” said neighbor Clarence Detrick. “I am sure nobody would want to harm the cows up there.”

    He says the area might be rural, but there are fewer and fewer people raising or keeping livestock, so the sanctuary is generally welcome here.

    “It’s nasty,” chimed in his wife Verna. “This is America. Everyone has a right to their own religion.”

    So far phone calls to the state police checking on the investigation have gone unreturned. And Shastri says he has no clue as to who could have committed this act. He does not know of any witnesses and there were no security cameras at the sanctuary. He says he has not witnessed anything like this in the last 16 years, while the cow sanctuary was at its previous location. Shastri recently noticed a Ku Klux Klan poster in one neighbor’s window, which made him wonder if there’s a connection.

    “But then his mother stopped by and said she loved the cows and and they asked about the house and she said my son lives there. She said he doesn’t mean it in any way to harm anybody. He just put it there so that people won’t bother him. So many people come with dirt bikes and ATV’s and that is kind of damaging,” she told Shastri.

    Representatives of the Hindu-America Foundation, an advocacy group to foster the understanding of Hinduism in this country, met last week with Suzanne Buchanan, “conciliation specialist” with  the U.S. Department of Justice. Buchanan is offering to work as a facilitator in future conversations with the police or local residents unfamiliar with Hinduism.

    Within 10 miles of the sanctuary, there are two Hindu temples. There’s also the Arsha Vidya, an institute that offers classes in Indian disciplines such as yoga, Sanskrit, and philosophy.

    Janet Falk, who works there was encouraged after meeting with Buchanan.

    “In this local community, people are going to have their eyes opened, somewhat, which is wonderful,” said Falk. “It is a very conservative community in which we live.”

    Going forward, Shastri is positive.

    “Hopefully we will have a meeting with [Department of Justice], FBI and state police chief and local police to see how we can monitor this situation,” he said. “And meet with community leaders to spread the awareness of love and compassion and hopefully transform this into a loving and compassionate community.”

    The Hindu community is now planning an annual walk and a prayer vigil at the cow sanctuary to raise awareness. But, for the time being, Shastri has installed security cameras.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.