In a significant legal development, the Bengal wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has approached the Calcutta High Court’s Circuit Bench at Jalpaiguri to contest the forest department’s decision to house a lion named ‘Akbar’ alongside a lioness named ‘Sita’ in the same enclosure at Siliguri’s Safari park.

The plea, brought before Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya’s bench on 16th February 2024, has been scheduled for hearing on 20th February. The controversy stems from the recent arrival of the lion pair from Sepahijala Zoological Park in Tripura, with forest officials asserting that the names were not altered upon their transfer on 13th February.

Of particular contention is the choice of names for the lions, with ‘Akbar’ evoking the historical figure of one of the renowned Mughal Emperors, and ‘Sita’ being a revered deity in Hinduism, featured prominently in Valmiki’s Ramayana.

The VHP contends that the lions were named by the State’s forest department, and housing ‘Sita’ alongside ‘Akbar’ amounts to a derogation of Hindu religious sentiments. The organization has demanded a change in the lioness’s name to rectify what they perceive as an affront to the Hindu faith.

The State’s Forest Authorities and the director of Bengal’s Safari Park have been included as respondents in the case, signaling the breadth of stakeholders involved in the dispute.

With the plea slated for further deliberation on Tuesday, 20th February, the matter promises to ignite discussions surrounding the intersection of religious symbolism, animal welfare, and administrative decisions. The outcome of the hearing holds implications not only for the management of wildlife enclosures but also for the protection of religious sensitivities in public spaces.

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