Indian court orders zoo to change ‘blasphemous’ names of cohabiting lions

An Indian zoo has been forced to change the ‘blasphemous’ names of two of its lions  (Getty)
An Indian zoo has been forced to change the ‘blasphemous’ names of two of its lions (Getty)

An Indian court has asked a zoo in West Bengal to rename two lions after a hardline right-wing Hindu organisation claimed that one of the names offended the religious sentiments of Hindus.

The two were named Sita and Akbar and they were living together in the same enclosure in the zoo.

In Hindu mythology, Sita is worshipped along with Lord Ram. And in Islam, Akbar is one of the 100 names of god [Allah]. A Muslim ruler during the Mughal era in India was also named Akbar.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP] complained that the lioness should not be named after the Hindu deity, Sita.

On Thursday, a court in West Bengal said that animals should not be named after “Hindu gods, Muslim Prophets, Christian figures, Nobel laureates and freedom fighters”.

“You could have named it Bijli [lightning] or something like that. But why give names such as Akbar and Sita?” Justice Saugata Bhattacharya asked.

The court also questioned the zoo authorities’ wisdom of naming pets, dogs included, after humans. “You could’ve avoided a controversy,” the judge said.

The two lions currently live at the North Bengal Wild Animals Park in Siliguri, West Bengal.

The VHP also opposed the idea of both animals sharing the same park.

“Sita and Akbar cannot be allowed to live together,” VHP spokesperson Vinod Bansal said.

The VHP, affiliated with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP], criticised the naming as a direct attack on Hindu beliefs, accusing West Bengal’s opposition-ruled government of intentional provocation and threatening protests if the names and location of the lions were not changed.

“She [Sita] is the consort of [Hindu god] Lord Ram and herself is a sacred deity to all Hindus across the world,” VHP said in its complaint. “Such an act amounts to blasphemy and is a direct assault on the religious beliefs of all Hindus.”