Home /  News /  India

India Zoo Controversy: Can 'Muslim' Lion & 'Hindu' Lioness Share Space?

Representational image of a lion and a lioness

The Calcutta High Court recently directed the West Bengal government to consider renaming two lions in a zoo-cum-animal reserve following objections from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist organization. The lioness, named 'Sita,' and a lion named 'Akbar' shared an enclosure at Bengal Safari Park, which the VHP said was inappropriate due to the historical connotations of the names. The VHP objected to the lion 'Akbar' sharing its name with a 16th-century Mughal emperor.

Anup Mondal, a VHP official, stated, "Sita cannot stay with the Mughal Emperor Akbar."

New call-to-action

The VHP received complaints about hurt religious sentiments from across India, considering the naming of the lions blasphemous. The lions were brought to West Bengal as part of an exchange program with the Sepahijala Zoological Park in Tripura, a state governed by the BJP. The VHP claimed that the lion named 'Akbar' was originally named 'Ram', after a Hindu deity and Sita's husband, and that the renaming was done by the West Bengal authorities, who belong to the opposition Trinamool Congress party.

However, West Bengal authorities denied this claim, insisting that the lions came with their names from Tripura. Following the petition, the lions were moved to separate enclosures to prevent a "Muslim" lion from mating with a "Hindu" lioness, as reported in an Al Jazeera article.

The news portal Al Jazeera, also reported that naming issue sparked discussions and memes on social media platforms in India. One meme resembled a film poster with a lineup of hijab-clad panthers, referencing the film "The Kerala Story," which sparked controversy in India in 2023. The film is about women and girls in India's Kerala state who are converted to Islam to be recruited into the armed group ISIL (ISIS).

Another user created an AI visual on social media showing different renditions of AI art depicting a lion, presumably Akbar, in regal, beaded Mughal attire, next to Sita, dressed like Hindu royalty against the backdrop of a royal court.

In response to the controversy, Calcutta High Court Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya questioned the naming of lions, stating that animals should not be named after gods, mythological heroes, influential figures, or freedom fighters. He added that it is not ideal to name a lioness 'Sita' or a lion 'Akbar'. The case has been reclassified as public interest litigation, meaning the bench will not hear the matter further.

Related Posts