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26 Feb, 2024 15:51

Lions named after Muslim ruler and Hindu goddess spark controversy

A senior government official has been suspended in West Bengal after a Hindu group protested the monikers of two zoo animals
Lions named after Muslim ruler and Hindu goddess spark controversy

The government of India’s northeastern state of Tripura has suspended the principal chief conservator of forests, Prabin Lal Agrawal, following a row over the naming of a zoo lion and lioness as Akbar and Sita. The suspension came after a complaint was filed by the right-wing group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Indian media reported on Monday.

While Sita is a deity married to Lord Ram in the Indian epic Ramayana, Akbar was a 16th-century Muslim emperor of the powerful Mughal dynasty that ruled India and is seen as ‘invaders’ by some Hindus.

The VHP, in its plea heard by the Calcutta High Court, claimed that religious sentiments were being hurt by housing the two animals together at the Bengal Safari Park. The duo was transferred from Tripura’s Sepahijala Zoological Park to the Bengal Safari Park in Siliguri, West Bengal on February 12. 

The court said that animals should not be named after any religious deities or figures. “Why should you draw controversy by naming a lioness and a lion after Sita and Akbar?” Justice Saugata Bhattacharya, who weighed in on the case, was quoted by PTI news agency as saying.

“Sita is worshiped by a larger section of this country,” the judge stated. “I also oppose naming the lion after Akbar. He was an efficient, successful, and secular Mughal Emperor.” 

The court called on the state government to consider renaming the lioness to avoid controversy. The lawyer representing the state, meanwhile, said the lion and lioness were born in Tripura in 2018 and 2016 respectively, but no protest was made about the names. 

The seven-year-old Akbar and five-year-old Sita were taken to Siliguri as a part of an animal exchange program along with other animals, including two langurs, two leopard cats, and four blackbucks. India has another big cat named Sita – a white tiger in the Delhi Zoological Park.

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