In this journey of discovering the good deeds, services done by the awardees of the Padma awards this year, this is one story which is in awe, selfless and to come to India to serve the cows, untended, sick, injured who have been abandoned as they can no longer give milk, is really a rarity, especially when it’s done by a German animal rights activist, Friederike Irinia Bruning, aka Sudevi Mataji called by the locals in Radhakund, Mathura. This German national is living in India for nearly 40 odd years now and taking care of over 1800 cows and calves.

She has been doing it for the last 25 years, much before cows caught the fancy of politicians in northern plains here, this German woman during a solo trip to Mathura was so much moved by the plight of the stray animals that she decided to stay back and care for them, far from public glare in a dingy and deserted lane of the temple town.  Most of the animals in the cowshed were rescued after being abandoned by their owners.  On Republic Day, the Government recognised her services and she was honoured with PADMA SHRI.

Locally known as, Sudevi Mataji, the 61-year-old said, “she is grateful to the Government for recognising her work and hoped that others would also be inspired by it and be kind to animals. There are about 60 workers at the cowshed, around 35 lakhs is spent every month on their salaries, food, grains and medicines for cows. She also claimed that she gets Rs. 6-7 lakhs per month from inherited property”. Revisiting her initiative, “She started this from a small courtyard and then built a cowshed called SURABHI GAUSHALA NIKETAN, in Radhakund. She added, “she used her parents’ money to set up the gaushala. Bruning has built separate enclosures for bovines that are blind, injured and need special treatment”.

She came to India, in 1978, as a tourist from Berlin but had no idea what life had in store for her. She travelled down the memory lane and said, “She came to India as a tourist and realised that she needed the guidance of a guru. She went in search of a spiritual mentor in Radhakund. There she bought a cow at the behest of her neighbour 40 odd years back and since then everything in her life changed. She purchased books on cows and learned Hindi. She saw many people abandoning their cows that couldn’t give milk. They needed protection as no one was willing to care for them”.

Once a cow reaches her 3300 sq. yard gaushala, she takes them in and provides them with food and medicine. Today she has 1800 cows and calves but owing to lack of space to accommodate more as the premises is getting smaller, she kept the ones that are sick, old and handicapped and sent the rest to other gaushalas. Had she kept all the cows, she would have had 10,000 cows in her shelter. Her forte is that she cannot refuse when someone leaves a sick or injured cow outside her ashram. She has to take her in.

When asked how she manages to take care of 1800 odd cows and calves this is what she said, “Peoples’ donations are not enough and she has to use her own money. She has to manage with her own money salaries of the staff, food and medicines for the cows, which she manages from rental income of her property in Berlin. Initially she was supported by her father who lived with her till four or five years back to her set up of the cow shelter, who used to send her some money, but now as he is a senior citizen, she goes to see him every year at Berlin as he is not that well and he hasn’t witnessed in person the good work of his daughter.  She doesn’t get any help from the local authorities but somehow manages her work”.

She further added, “she cannot close the gaushala as she has 60 people working for her and they need all money to support their children and family and she has to take care of her cows who are her children, realising that, without her, so many lives would have nowhere to go”. Her peeve is that she cannot take Indian Nationality as she would lose her rental income from Berlin. Her father was working in German Embassy in India and it’s the money of her parents that she has put into the gaushala”.

Our Indian Community commemorates Sudevi Mataji on her generous work to protect the cows of India. Despite being a German National, she has devoted all her life for the well-being of animals in India, where a section of a society believes that protecting cows means resorting to vigilantism. We hope that the Government takes into account her selfless mission and grants her with the necessary resources for her to continue the exceptional humanitarian services.

This, PADMA SHRI, award is a step towards recognising her relentless and untiring efforts of so many years, but what would be most helpful for her is to muster, some more resources and issuance of a long term visa instead of renewing it every year.