On a haven for animals, saved and nurtured.

The five-day old calf catches the attention even as one walks up to meet Sadhana Rao. Its soft brown coat and liquid eyes capture the heart, which melts when the background is revealed. The mother and calf were rescued from a roadside near Chingleput.

The fully pregnant cow had been noticed by a passerby, who tried all possible ways to get help. A regular on that route, his concern turned into panic when the cow eventually delivered. For five days mother and calf had struggled under the Agni Nakshatram heat, without water and food.

The cow unable to stand any longer had collapsed and the baby managed to survive by suckling in a kneeling posture. The area was beyond the jurisdiction of the Blue Cross and the man with great difficulty brought them to Sadhana Rao’s Indian Institute of Animal Welfare. Medical care was given but the cow died. The male calf (picture right top) is doing well.

"It was a peaceful death," says Sadhana Rao for whom this is part of a mission, which she took up 40 years ago. "My mother’s father maintained a gosala, may be I inherited the trait from him. A Kashmiri (pundit), the family moved South decades ago.

The Indian Institute of Animal Welfare was founded by Dr. S. Shankardev, Sadhana Rao and K.M. Padmanabhan. What started with half-a-dozen cows has expanded into a unit that shelters over 200 cows inside Kapaleeswarar Nagar, Neelangarai.

Another unit at Venkatapuram beyond the Poondi reservoir on the Oothukottai route houses 300 cows. Temples such as Marundiswarar and Tiruvidanthai Nityakalyana Perumal regularly send their animals to her shelters that have become sanctuaries for buffaloes, bullocks, sheep and goats too. "These dogs came from Kanchipuram. A swamiji found some urchins pelting stones at the mother and its just-born puppies. He sent them here," informs Sadhana.

Sadhana has imbibed a lot from the Pondicherry Mother, who taught her spiritualism. "At the Ashram, a decision was made to cut down a mango tree that had dried. As was practice, Mother was informed. She came to the spot and sat under the tree with eyes closed for a while. ‘Don’t cut the tree, it is going to yield fruit,’ she said. Believe me, the tree put out fresh shoots, soon green leaves covered the branches and we tasted sweet mangoes. When a ‘dead’ tree has life within, how can animals be killed with such nonchalance?"

The shelter houses cattle rescued from smugglers. The caretakers show the wounds inflicted during transportation. A young cow is recovering from a fracture. "It has taken three months to heal and the animal can now walk, although with a limp," they explain.

It has been a bumpy, sometimes even dangerous, ride. Sadhana recalls those days when a gang smuggling animals to slaughter houses was after her. "This person would scout for stray animals during the day and seize them in the middle of night. The animals would be packed into a van and despatched to slaughter houses. Naturally, they resented my intervention and waited for me with sickles. I moved about in a burkha for nearly six months and a kind police officer gave me discreet protection."

Such was Sadhana’s determination that threat to life did not matter. Hailing from an affluent family, she spent all the wealth bequeathed for the cause. Her grandfather was a secretary to the Mahatma and the family donated 40 villages to Vinobha’s bhoodan movement. Sadhana has mortgaged all her jewels to meet the gosala expenses.

"The cows have given me spiritual strength in return, a gift so precious for those born in this punya bhoomi. Crises don’t worry me these days," says Sadhana softly. "I’m a devotee of Paramacharya. Waking up at 3 a.m., I looked towards the shelter and found all the cows standing, eyes focused in one direction. This was unusual. For a fraction of a second, I saw the figure of Periyava amidst the cows. I did namaskaram from where I was.

"Another time, a group of sanyasis from Gujarat came here and offered obeisance to the cows. I can talk about such experiences endlessly…"

It is the Jain community that is supporting the Institute. Fodder, maintenance, medical care, salary for the helpers, etc., run into lakhs of rupees. Sri Rajendra Jayant Goseva Samiti and Sri Om Shakti Seva Mandal are helping the Neelangarai shelter. Sambhavnath Seva Mandal is taking care of the Venkatapuram gosala. But spiralling costs and increase in the number of animals make funds a constraint.

Finding land is on top of Sadhana’s mind now. Posh houses have been built in the neighbourhood. The residents object to the surroundings. "This is where the Government can help us. Close to the Nityakalyana Perumal temple in Tiruvidanthai, a sprawling area is available. The Institute needs five acres for the animals and the caretakers. If this can be allotted to us, we will be grateful. A gosala in close proximity will bring more devotees to the temple. We have represented to the HR and CE Board and hope they oblige."

Sadhana strongly appeals for a veterinary ambulance service on the lines of 108.

The Institute can be contacted at 24493141 and 9840456623.

Gems of justice

Sadhana Rao commends judge Karpagavinayakam, who ruled against auction of cows by temples.

She admires the courage of the woman magistrate at Nazarethpet, who under Section 429, handed over to the Institute the lorry load of animals it had intercepted instead of returning them to the smugglers as is done in some cases.

Animal language

When a cow vigorously swishes her tail, she is in distress. When in pain, she will shake her head and shed tears.

If she is thirsty and you happen to pass by with a pail of water, she will glance at you and the bucket. Otherwise she will run her tongue over her muzzle.

Hunger and thirst are signalled through loud bellowing.