Calcutta HC suggests renaming of lion and lioness Akbar and Sita

Judge says Sita is worshipped by a large section of citizens, while Akbar "was a very successful and secular Mughal emperor"

Calcutta High Court (photo: IANS)
Calcutta High Court (photo: IANS)


The Calcutta High Court on Thursday verbally asked the West Bengal Zoo Authority to consider renaming the lioness and lion 'Sita' and 'Akbar' at the safari park in Siliguri, and wondered why anyone would "create a controversy" by using such names.

Hearing petitions by the north Bengal unit of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and two other individuals, the high court’s Jalpaiguri circuit bench asked whether an animal could be named after gods, mythological heroes, freedom fighters or Nobel laureates. It then went on to ask whether a lion could be named after Swami Vivekananda or Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

Observing that West Bengal is already burdened with several controversies starting from school jobs appointments to several other issues, Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya said, "Therefore, take a prudent decision, avoid this controversy."

Maintaining that this view would not be reflected in his order, the judge suggested to the state's lawyer that he use his good offices and ask the zoo authorities to "give different names" to the lion and the lioness.

The court said India is a secular country and every community has the right to pursue or follow their own religion. "Why should you draw controversy by naming a lioness and a lion after Sita and Akbar?" The judge added that Sita is worshipped by a large section of citizens, while Akbar "was a very successful and secular Mughal emperor", and that he did not support the naming of either animal thus.

Akbar and Sita were brought to the Bengal Safari Park in Siliguri from Tripura’s Sepahijala Zoological Park on 12 February.

The VHP had filed a petition before the circuit bench praying that the names be changed as they hurt the religious sentiments of a section of citizens.

The lawyer representing West Bengal claimed that the two animals were named in Tripura and not in Bengal and there are documents to prove it. The court said if the naming was done there, the zoo authority in Tripura is required to be made a party in the matter.

The judge also said in his order that since a social organisation and two individuals came up with petitions claiming that the naming hurts the religious sentiments of a section of citizens of the country, it appears that the "personal right" of the petitioners is not in breach.

He said the petitioners have rather espoused "the cause of a greater section" of people of India who belong to a particular religion. The writ petition in its present form is not maintainable, the court said in its dictated order, holding that it can, however, be reclassified as public interest litigation (PIL).

Noting that the naming of the two animals has already been done, justice Bhattacharyya granted leave to the petitioners to reclassify the petition as a PIL. The court directed that if the reclassification is done by Friday, the registry will transmit the same to the regular bench hearing PIL matters for consideration within 10 days.

The judge then directed that the matter be released from the list in his court. During the hearing of the matter, the state’s lawyer submitted that two animals were brought to West Bengal under an exchange programme, for which permission was granted by the Central government.

The state’s lawyer said the lion and lioness were born in Tripura in 2018 and 2016 respectively, but there had been no protest so far about the names. Only when the animals were brought to Bengal did the petitioners wake up, he contended.

The judge then remarked that it is frequently said by leaders that "what Bengal thinks today, the rest of the nation thinks tomorrow", so the state should show the path by renaming the two animals.

When informed by the petitioner's lawyer that a lioness at Alipore Zoo in Kolkata is named Shruti, the judge said this was the kind of name that would avoid controversy. An animal should not be named after any deity or figure belonging to any religion, the judge observed verbally.

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