Miss Tibet pageant stirs controversy

04 October 2005
Also published in http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_1810920,00.html

Published in: US, South Africa

Tashi Yangchen - Miss Tibet 2004

AFP/File Photo: Miss Tibet 2004 Tashi Yangchen . Despite having just one entrant and no swimsuit section, ...

NEW DELHI – As beauty pageants go, the Miss Tibet competition in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala — home to the exiled Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama — would seem a non-event.

But despite having just one entrant and no swimsuit section, the contest has caused a bitter split among Tibetan refugees in the hill station regarded as sacred by Tibetans due to the presence of the Dalai Lama.

Traditionalists say it brings the town into disrepute, while a local women's group argues the pageant will advance the cause of freedom for Tibet from Chinese rule.

"We feel that holding such pageants here is not appropriate because in the minds of Tibetans and people across the world, Dharamsala is home to his highness," said Thupten Samphel, secretary in the exiled Tibetan government which is headquartered in Dharamsala.

"Dharamsala is a sacred place and is deeply revered by our people. It is no place for the celebration of the human body ... it is against Buddhism," he told AFP by telephone.

Others however feel the contest is step forward for the closed and conservative society of Tibetan exiles and could help publicize their cause.

Eight of the nine contestants have withdrawn from the pageant for unspecified reasons, offering a walkover to the winner who will be crowned Miss Tibet on October 8, event spokesman Ngawang Samdup said.

"It may seem bizarre with just one contestant but for a closed society it is a bold step," Samdup said, as younger Tibetans argued the event would help publicize the decades-old drive for an end to Chinese rule in their homeland.

Samdup said the winner's identity would be revealed at the gala planned for Saturday when she would receive 100,000 rupees (2,325 dollars) as prize money.

This year marks the second time the controversial pageant is feting a solitary contestant.

In 2003, Tsering Kyi became the unopposed Miss Tibet but last year Tashi Yangchen became Miss Tibet in a five-way contest held despite opposition from the Tibetan leadership.

When the first pageant was staged in 2002, monk-prime minister Rinpoche flayed it as "un-Tibetan" and said the organizers were "aping Western culture."

"The prime minister has again come out very, very strongly saying it goes against Buddhist traditions," said Samphel.

But the pageant was not banned.

"We feel the younger generation (should) use others means to propagate our cause ... Application of pressure is not right but these people should realize that these things are very wrong," said Samphel.

The Tibetan Women's Association, an anti-Chinese lobby of 3,000 members worldwide, however, supported the event, saying it helped their cause for a free Tibet.

"We support this pageant as we feel this is an extra platform for Tibetan issues and culture," said association president B. Thering.

"But we are not going to campaign for it or fund pageants as we have more urgent things to do but we think girls selected for the contest have always focussed on Tibetan issues, creating awareness among international bodies," she said.

Event realize said the show would be conducted in accordance with international norms.

"During the coronation, the new Miss Tibet will introduce herself and express her views dressed in an evening gown," the event managers said on their official website (www.misstibet.com).

"She will present a dance performance as talent show and then appear in traditional costume to be crowned," they said.

The event was originally planned to be held from September 29 with a weeklong training session but this was curtailed after opposition from the Tibetan government-in-exile.

India has played host to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile since the spiritual leader fled Tibet disguised as a soldier in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

There now are more than 200,000 Tibetan refugees living in India by official counts.

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