NEW DELHI: In a communally inspired petition, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has moved the Circuit Bench of Calcutta High Court in Jalpaiguri district against a lioness named Sita and male lion named Akbar at the North Bengal Wild Animals Park in Siliguri, reports said on Saturday.

They said the two big cats bearing the names of Mughal emperor Akbar and Rama’s wife Sita were brought to the Siliguri zoo from Tripura’s Sepahijala Zoo along with eight other animals, as part of an animal exchange programme on Feb 12.

In the writ petition, which was presented on Friday, the VHP has claimed that such names for the cat family were “irrational”, “illogical” and “tantamount to blasphemy”.

The hearing in the case is scheduled to be held on Feb 20 in the court of Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya, the reports said.

The petition filed by the VHP stated: “On Feb 8, 2024, Sepahijala Zoological Park handed over one male lion and a lioness along with eight other animals to North Bengal Wildlife Animals Park, Siliguri for the said animal exchange programme. The Bengal Safari Park has named the female lion as ‘Sita’. By using the name of ‘Sita’ for a lioness, the respondent authority is hurting religious sentiments of Sanatan Dharma…”

“Such naming of a cat family after a religious deity, namely Sita, is irrational, illogical…The outrageous nomenclature has angered petitioners’ religious sentiments. That it is stated by the petitioner that such naming of animals after the name of religious deities is very much sacrilegious and tantamount to blasphemy…” the petition further stated.

According to VHP, its representatives had met state forest officials multiple times and even protested against the names. “They have named a lioness as Sita and the lion as Akbar. How can this be? Does this not hurt our religious sentiments? We went from one office of the forest department to another. No one paid heed to us, so we had to move court,” said VHP’s Jalpaiguri unit chief Dulal Chandra Roy.

“In light of the urgency of the situation, the VHP by way of a writ petition has urged the court to take immediate action, including changing the lioness’s name to a non-religious one and directing authorities to refrain from using religious names for animals in zoological parks.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2024

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