'Interfaith' Sita-Akbar lion couple to get new monikers over fear of Hindu-Muslim riots

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A pair of Asiatic lions in Sarthana Zoo.— ANI/file
A pair of Asiatic lions in Sarthana Zoo.— ANI/file

A zoo in West Bengal, India, has been directed by a court to change the names of an 'interfaith' lion couple following objections from a hardline Hindu group, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), claiming the names were offensive to their religious sentiments, BBC reported. 

The lioness, initially named after the Hindu deity Sita, and the lion, named Akbar after the 16th-century Mughal ruler, Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar, sparked a legal dispute over alleged blasphemy.

The VHP, associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), contended that naming the lioness after a goddess was blasphemous and protested against keeping the lions in the same wildlife park. 

The court ruling stated that animals should not be named after figures from Hindu gods, Muslim Prophets, revered Christian personalities, Nobel laureates, or freedom fighters.

Justice Saugata Bhattacharya questioned the choice of names, suggesting alternatives like "Bijli" (lightning) to avoid controversy. The court also pondered on the appropriateness of naming pets, including dogs, after individuals.

The VHP, asserting the sacred significance of Sita in Hindu beliefs, deemed the naming act as blasphemy and an assault on the religious sentiments of Hindus across the world. 

The organisation accused West Bengal authorities, governed by an opposition party, of intentional actions and threatened protests unless the names and locations of the lions were changed.

VHP spokesperson Vinod Bansal emphasised that Sita and Akbar should not coexist and called for the relocation of the big cats along with a change in their names. 

The court's decision to intervene reflects the intersection of cultural and religious sensitivities surrounding the naming of animals in the Indian context.