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After the King’s Crown, Maoist Want Miss Nepal’s Cron

Kathmandu: After waging a battle to abolish the throne, Nepal's Maoists are now fighting to scrap the crown of beauty as well. //However this crown is not hereditary and belongs to the commoner, earned after grueling competition. Sitashma Chand, 23-year-old sales executive came, she was seen by thousands, and she conquered the crown. She bagged the best deal in her career by lifting the Miss Nepal 2007 crown.

She won over 18 other finalists as well as scores of Maoists, rights activists and feminists, who kept up stiff resistance outside the pageant venue, trying to stop it.

"I respect the opinion of all the women who are protesting against the pageant," Chand said after lifting the title Saturday, with a smile that however showed the iron under it.

"However, all the participants here are above 18. So the protesters should also respect our right to form our own opinion."

The five-seven-and-a-half leggy beauty won the contest due to her quick wit.

Asked during one of the preliminary rounds, which role she considered the most important - a mother's, wife's or daughter's - her immediate answer was a daughter's.

"I am a daughter and I can make my parents proud. So it's the most important role for me," she said.

What clinched the crown for her was her answer at the final round when she was asked whether traditions should be followed or changed.

Chand rooted for some amendments. "Sacrificing animals in the name of god is not what god asks for," she said.

Animal sacrifices form a key component of religious festivals. The slaughter of animals and birds in temples during Dashain, Nepal's biggest festival, similar to India's Dussehra, often shocks foreigners with the pools of blood and severed heads and entrails of sacrificed animals littering places of worship.

Chand's victory is especially sweet coming after a harrowing time as the women's wing of the Maois ts and other feminist organizations began a sit-in outside the pageant venue in a bid to stop it.

Calling it a tool to exploit, degrade and traffic women, protesters pulled down the welcome arch and prevented people from entering through the main gate.

Riot police, employed to prevent the protesters from storming the venue, baton-charged the crowd, resulting in nearly half a dozen being injured.

The other victory was the unhindered live telecast of the show by the government-run Nepal Television channel.

"It shows the Maoists are developing maturity," said Subarna Chhetri, whose The Hidden Treasure event management company held the pageant with the sponsorship of Dabur Nepal.

"Though the information and communications minister (Krishna Bahadur Mahara) is from the Maoist party, still by allowing the state channel to work unhindered, the Maoists showed a positive side."

Chhetri, a Calcutta Boys alumnus and arts graduate from Kolkata's St. Xavier's College, said he was optimistic the pageant would be held in 2008 too despite the stiff resistance.

Started in 1994, the Miss Nepal contest was prevented only twice - in 2001 when Nepal went into national mourning after the royal family with 10 members was gunned down in the palace, and in 2006, due to the political instability and the Moss World pageant advancing its date. Nepal's best-known and oldest beauty pageant, the Miss Nepal contest, is under siege from the Maoists' women's organization that is seeking to have the programme axed on grounds that it treats women as sex objects.

Scheduled to be held Saturday, the Miss Nepal contest's main sponsor is Dabur India's wholly-owned subsidiary Dabur Nepal. The pageant has run into fresh offensive from the guerrillas who this week approached the deputy speaker in parliament, Chitralekha Yadav, asking her to table a motion in the house to stop the show.

However, Yadav re portedly told them the motion could be tabled in the house only after an agreement between the eight-party ruling coalitions.

The Miss Nepal pageant, started in 1994, is organized by the Kathmandu-based Hidden Treasure event management group. The event has seen an astonishing rise in the number of contestants each year and has sparked a series of other beauty contests.

Like the Miss World and the Miss Universe pageants, it too had its detractors in women's groups and party organizations that held half-hearted protests outside the venue, the prestigious Birendra International Convention Centre, asking for a ban on the pageant.

However, this is the first time the Maoists have taken up cudgels against the show. Considered an outlawed organization till last year, the Maoists became a recognized parliamentary party after they signed a peace pact in 2006 and were inducted into the government on April 1.

After the formation of the new government, Maoist spokesperson Krishna Bahadur Mahara has been appointed information and communications minister.

With the state-run Nepal Television channel scheduled to broadcast the Miss Nepal pageant live Saturday, the rebel women's group approached the minister and asked him to stop the state television from broadcasting it.

Hidden Treasure has warned Nepal Television that if the state agency agreed, it would be a breach of contract and they would take the agency to court for stiff damages.

"Bravo, it shows the (Mao)Badis have their priorities right," the Nepali Times weekly wrote Friday, commenting on the imbroglio.

"Of all the problems that beset this country that needed urgent attention, of course it was Miss Nepal. That was what was holding us back from ensuring peace, development and democracy.

"And now that we've banned it, everything will be hunky-dory."

The weekly is also suggesting tongue-in-cheek options tha t will be palatable to the communist guerrillas.

"The interview round will be replaced by a revolutionary speech round; the swimsuit round with submachinegun round and the Miss Photogenic Smile with the Miss Red Salute."


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