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Hindutva organisation launches court petition in India against lions named after Muslim, Hindu figures

February 19, 2024 at 8:54 pm

The Indian National Flag on 5 September 2021 [Amarjeet Kumar Singh/Anadolu Agency]

A Hindu extremist organisation in India has launched a court petition to stop two lions named after a Mughal Muslim Emperor and a Hindu deity from sharing a zoo enclosure, amid the growing anti-Muslim and sectarian sentiment within the country.

Following reports that a lioness named Sita – a Hindu ‘goddess’ – had been placed with a lion named Akbar – a Muslim emperor who ruled over the Mughal empire in the 16th century – in an enclosure at a zoo in the Indian state of West Bengal, the right-wing organisation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), launched a petition at a court to ban the use of religious names for animals in zoos.

According to the VHP, “such an act amounts to blasphemy and is a direct assault on the religious belief of all Hindus”. An official at the organisation, Anup Mondal, also stated on Sunday that “Sita cannot stay with the Mughal Emperor Akbar”, as it would apparently further risk offending religious sentiments amongst the country’s Hindu-majority population.

The lion named Akbar had reportedly previously been named Rama, the Hindu deity, when he was in the neighbouring state of Tripura – controlled by the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – but was later changed after being brought to West Bengal, under the control of the opposition, Trinamool Congress Party.

The case is currently scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, 20 February but, meanwhile, “the lion and the lioness are now kept separately”, according to Dipak Kumar Mandal, an official from the West Bengal forest department.

The VHP’s court petition comes at a time when anti-Muslim and sectarian sentiment in India has been on a sharp rise over the years, with Hindu nationalists and extremists becoming ever more emboldened in their acts against Muslims and other groups, particularly with the BJP remaining in power.

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