Objection to lions of ‘different faiths’ in same camp

Henry

An Indian court this week asked authorities to find new names for two lions named after a Hindu goddess and a Muslim emperor, after a religious group filed a petition to prevent the two lions from sharing a camp.

Sita and Akbar were moved to the Siliguri Zoo in West Bengal this month as part of an exchange program with a neighboring state.

This upset the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a prominent right-wing Hindu organization which campaigns for the discouraging of interfaith relations.

The group took the case to court and said the two lions being kept together were “blasphemous” and hurtful to Hindu religious sentiment.

In the Kolkata High Court on Thursday, Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya asked the state’s legal representative to rename the two lions.

“The names must be avoided and their use stopped to avoid unnecessary controversy,” he said, according to the Hindustan Times said.

State counsel Joyjit Choudhury told the judge that the state was “already thinking of renaming the two lions”.

Sita is one of the main characters of the Hindu story Ramayana and the wife of Ram, one of the Hindu faith’s most revered deities.

Akbar was a 16th-century Mughal emperor who extended Islamic rule over much of the Indian subcontinent, a period in which the religion of Hindu nationalist groups was suppressed.

The VHP also claimed that Akbar the lion was originally named after Ram before the pair arrived in Siliguri.

Critics say religious intolerance towards India’s 200 million Muslim residents – a minority faith in the country – has increased since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in 2014.

The VHP, a group loosely linked to Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has campaigned against interfaith marriages and supported efforts to make them more difficult.

It has also promulgated a “Love Jihad” conspiracy theory which claims that India’s Muslim minority lures Hindu women into marriage to convert them to the Islamic faith.