A Brave Miss

AFP Agence France Presse (AFP)

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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.

The fourth annual competition had been thrown into turmoil after all but one of the contestants pulled out, resulting in a walkover for the winner, reported The Independent.

On Saturday the lone participant, Miss Tenzing Nyima, was crowned winner. Prior to that, her identity was kept under wraps.

But after the ceremony, she said: 'I think I am the only contestant because Tibetan girls are very shy.

'I have become Miss Tibet today and, if given an opportunity, I will surely stand for Tibet. I want you to co-operate with me.'

The contest has struggled to find its feet in the face of staunch opposition from conservative Buddhists.

Traditionalists say it brings the town into disrepute, while others, including a local women's group, argue that the pageant will advance the cause of freedom for Tibet.

The contest's organiser, Mr Lobsang Wangyal, said before the ceremony: 'A time will come soon when the conservative Tibetan society will break out of its traditional shackles and accept such shows with open arms.

'It is a Tibetan beauty pageant, not aping western culture. It may seem bizarre with just one contestant, but for a closed society, it is a bold step.'

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

But Mr Thupten Samphel, secretary in the exiled Tibetan government, said: '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, the Dalai Lama.

'It is no place for the celebration of the human body. It is against Buddhism.'

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

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

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