Published On: Wed, Feb 28th, 2024

India: Official at zoo suspended after outrage over names he chose for two lions | World | News

In a controversial move that sparked outrage from a hardline Hindu group, an official at the North Bengal Wild Animals Park in Siliguri district has been suspended by an Indian court for naming two lions after religious and historical figures.

The lioness, named after the Hindu deity Sita, and the lion, called Akbar after the 16th Century Mughal ruler, faced criticism from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

The VHP argued that naming the lioness after a goddess was blasphemous and objected to housing both lions in the same wildlife park.

The court, presided over by Justice Saugata Bhattacharya, expressed disapproval of naming animals after religious and historical figures. “You could have named it Bijli [lightning] or something like that. But why give names such as Akbar and Sita?” the judge questioned.

The court also pondered on the naming of pets, including dogs, after people, suggesting that controversy could have been avoided. “You could’ve avoided a controversy,” Justice Bhattacharya remarked.

The VHP, which has ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), filed a complaint alleging blasphemy and received complaints from across the country.

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

Accusing West Bengal authorities, ruled by an opposition party, of intentional provocation, the VHP threatened protests unless the names and location of the lions were changed. VHP spokesperson Vinod Bansal said: “Sita and Akbar cannot be allowed to live together.”

In response to the controversy, the court directed the zoo to change the names of the lions and reevaluate their housing arrangement.

The suspension of the official responsible for the naming decisions was also announced pending further investigation.

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