'Why create controversy naming lions Sita, Akbar?': Calcutta HC asks Bengal to rename animals

Photo: Evgeniyqw/Shutterstock

Kolkata: The Calcutta High Court on Thursday asked the West Bengal government to rename the lion 'Akbar' and the lioness 'Sita', which are kept in the same enclosure at Bengal Safari Park. The court asked the state government's lawyer whether he would name his pet after a Hindu God or a Muslim Prophet.

The court directed for the reclassification of a plea moved by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as a public interest litigation, and for it to be placed before the regular bench having determination over PILs, Live Law reported.

The court orally called on the Bengal government to consider renaming the lioness called 'Sita', who was a worshipped goddess among Hindus, to avoid controversy. Upon being told that the lioness at Alipore Zoo was called 'Sruti', the bench orally remarked: "These are the uncontroversial names. Will you name a lion after a Hindu deity, a Muslim prophet or Christian god or freedom fighter or a Nobel laureate? Generally, anyone who is revered or respected by the people of our country?"

Earlier Live Law had reported on the proceedings before a single bench of Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya, which had directed the State counsel to obtain instructions on whether the pair of lions brought in from Tripura Zoo were named 'Akbar' and 'Sita' by the West Bengal Zoo authorities.

On this occasion, the Additional Advocate General (AAG) submitted that the naming of the lions had taken place in Tripura, and it was the responsibility of the Tripura Zoo authorities. Counsel also submitted that the writ petition moved by the VHP would not be maintainable as there was no element of personal rights of the petitioners which were involved and that the state itself was looking into the possibility of renaming the lions.

Upon hearing these arguments, the bench was of the view that due to the nature of the petition which espoused the rights of a large group of people, and claimed that naming a lion after Sita, who was worshipped by many Hindus would hurt their religious sentiments, the plea would have to be reclassified as a PIL, and the present bench would not have determination to hear the same.

Justice Bhattacharya orally expressed strong views on the 'controversial names' given to the pair of animals. He remarked: “Who has given this name? Causing controversy? I was thinking whether any animal can be given a name after a god, mythological hero, freedom fighter, or Nobel laureate. You are a welfare state and it is a secular state. Why should you draw controversy by naming a lion after Sita and Akbar? This controversy should have been avoided. Not only Sita, but I also don't support the naming of a lion Akbar. He was a very efficient and noble Mughal emperor. Very successful and secular Mughal emperor. If it is already named, the state authority should shun it and avoid it. West Bengal should have challenged the names given.”

During the exchange with the AAG, the court expressed that animals could not be named after revered figures, also asked him whether he had any pets, and what he had named them:

Court: Do you have pet dogs? What are the names?
AAG: I have three. Toffee, Truffle, and Theo.
Court: Prudent naming. Otherwise, on the next date, the newspaper will say AAG names dogs after national heroes.

AAG vehemently submitted that the naming exercise was undertaken by the Tripura Zoo authorities and that the West Bengal authorities were considering renaming the lions. It was also submitted that the case was causing controversy on social media, leading to a bad impression being given to the state.
(With LiveLaw inputs)

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