Indian court to hear case over lions named after Hindu deity and Muslim ruler

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

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a prominent right-wing Hindu organization, went to court in West Bengal state after reports a lioness named Sita had been put together with a lion called Akbar.

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

“Sita cannot stay with the Mughal emperor Akbar,” VHP official Anup Mondal said Sunday, saying it hurt religious sentiments in the Hindu-majority nation.

The VHP lodged a plea on Friday calling for a name-change.

“Such act amounts to blasphemy and is a direct assault on the religious belief of all Hindus,” the VHP said in its petition to the court.

Critics say religious intolerance has been growing in the world’s most populous country since the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014.

General elections, likely to be held in April, are expected to see Modi win a third term in power.

Mondal said the lion called Akbar had previously been named after the Hindu deity Ram when he was in the neighboring state of Tripura, which is controlled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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.

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 February 20.

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