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Yeh Jo India Hai Na | Be It Sita or Akbar, Targeting a Forest Officer Is Absurd

The point is that this really is a non-issue. Giving 'pet names’ to zoo animals is random, and harmless.

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Sita bhi chalega, Akbar bhi chalega, 

Lekin kabhi yeh na socha yaaron..  

Humare naam par vivaad 

High Court mein chalega! 

(Sita is acceptable, and so is Akbar… never thought our 'names’ would become a High Court matter!)

Praveen Agarwal, Tripura’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) and Chief Wildlife Warden, literally the state’s top forest officer, is currently pinching himself to check whether he is just having a daft dream.

Unfortunately no. He has actually been suspended for naming a lioness and a lion, Sita and Akbar, respectively.

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Sorry, No Sita, No Akbar! Rename Now

This happened after the lion and lioness were brought to Siliguri’s North Bengal Wildlife Park from Tripura’s Sepahijala Zoo, as part of an animal exchange program on 12 February 2023. Members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) got to know of these names, perhaps on a slow day, after which they chose to rake it up into an issue and lodge a petition at the Calcutta High Court.

Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya of the Calcutta High Court surprised a lot of people by actually seeing merit in the petition. On 22 February, he said that his conscience did not support such naming of lions.

Upholding the VHP’s petition, he ruled against naming animals after deities. In fact, the secular-minded judge clarified that he was also against naming a lion after Akbar and other such major historical figures. He verbally urged the West Bengal state government to give new names to the lions.

Readers’ suggestions are invited, I guess. I like Thor. Mighty, 'lion-worthy’, and 'VHP-proof’.

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From Shiva, Parvati to Kapil Dev and Madhuri…

But, returning to the point, the fact is, that the 'pet-naming’ of zoo animals has never been an issue before this.

Lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos, and other big animals were routinely given such 'pet names’ and no one had any misgivings, and that was that. In fact, The Indian Express says 13 tigresses have been named Sita by zoos in all parts of India, over the years. They have also been named after other deities – Shiva, Parvati, Krishna, Radha, Durga, Ganga, Lakshmi and more.

In court, Justice Bhattacharya also asked, "Will you name a lion Samrat Ashok?" As a matter of fact, that too, has been done, at Gujarat’s Junagadh Zoo and at Odisha’s Nandankanan Zoo.

Apart from Akbar, the names of other prominent rulers have also been used – Ashok, Raja Harishchandra, and Baji Rao. Even names of cricketers, from Kapil Dev, Sachin, and Dravid, to that of film stars such as Rekha, Madhuri, and Karishma.

The point is, that this really is a non-issue. Giving 'pet names’ to zoo animals is random, and harmless. If anything, these names only show how much these animals are loved and respected by their zoo keepers.

It’s a time-honoured tradition, which should be none of our business. Why shouldn’t zoo keepers who devote their entire lives to looking after these grand animals have the right to give them simple 'pet names’?

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Animal 'Pet Names’ – None of Our Business

And should we, as a reasonable society, allow the list of trivial things that 'offend’ us, to get any longer? Surely not. And how far back in time would we want to go, to 'rectify’ the 'intolerable’ naming of lions and tigers? And would we want to punish zoo keepers and wildlife wardens 'retrospectively’ for the crime of 'disrespectful pet-naming of zoo animals’? Doesn’t the question itself sound absurd?

For instance, in the 1970s, Gujarat’s Junagadh Zoo paired a lion named 'Ram’ with a lioness 'Mumtaz’. Then again, in 1980 in Mysore Zoo, cubs born to tigress Radha and tiger Krishna, were named Mumtaz and Safdar. And as recently as 2016, in Bhilai, a tiger cub 'Sultan’ was born to tigress ‘Ganga’, while in Etawah Zoo, a lion 'Shankar’ fathered a lion 'Sultan’.

Are we going to go hunting for those responsible for all of these ‘offensive’ matings and namings? Surely not. The VHP took a chance and politicised an absurd, non-issue and sadly, the Calcutta High Court obliged. 
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Lion Names vs 2 Lakh Pending Cases

But is a lion’s pet name worth the time of the Calcutta High Court? As of 31 December 2023, there were 16,978 original cases and a whopping 1,89,459 appeal cases pending in the Calcutta High Court. That’s over 2 lakh cases needing the court’s attention.

Also, should a forest officer who has served for 30 thankless years, fighting poachers and wood smugglers, be suspended for calling two lions 'Sita' and 'Akbar'?

India’s wildlife wardens and forest conservation officers lead 'invisible’ lives, the bulk of their careers spent deep inside India’s forests. Let’s please be assured that they are not trying to shake India’s cultural foundations by naming tigers and lions after deities.

Yeh Jo India Hai Na, here if we really want to help our wildlife, let’s move past their pet names, and focus on far more serious issues – shrinking habitat, poaching, climate change (yes, it affects animals too), and of course, even extinction.

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