Hindu nationalists go to court over lion named after Muslim emperor in India

An Indian Hindu nationalist organisation has launched a court petition to stop two lions named after a Hindu deity and a 16th-century Muslim emperor from sharing a zoo enclosure.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a prominent rightwing Hindu organisation, went to court in the state of West Bengal after reports a lioness named Sita had been put with a lion called Akbar.

Akbar was a Mughal emperor who extended Muslim rule over much of the Indian subcontinent, a time Hindu nationalist groups consider to have been a period of slavery.

“Sita cannot stay with the Mughal emperor Akbar,” the VHP official Anup Mondal said on Sunday, suggesting it would offend religious sentiments in the Hindu-majority country.

“Such an act amounts to blasphemy and is a direct assault on the religious belief of all Hindus,” the VHP said , after having lodged a plea on Friday calling for a name change.

Critics say religious intolerance has been growing in the world’s most populous country since the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, came to power in 2014. General elections, likely to be held in April, are expected to secure Modi a third term in power.

Mondal said the lion called Akbar had previously been named after the Hindu deity Rama when he was in the neighbouring state of Tripura, which is controlled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party.

But the lion’s name was changed when he was brought to West Bengal, which is controlled by the opposition Trinamool Congress party. The VHP petition calls for a ban on using religious names for animals in zoos.

A West Bengal forest department official, Dipak Kumar Mandal, said “the lion and the lioness are now kept separately”.

The case is scheduled for a hearing on 20 February.


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