Maoists turn their guns on Miss Nepal

August 7th, 2008 - 2:21 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Aug 7 (IANS) Even as Nepal’s former Maoist guerrillas stepped up consultations to form a new government within 48 hours, their women’s wing Thursday padlocked the office of the hosts of the country’s oldest and biggest beauty pageant sponsored by Indian ayurvedic giant Dabur. The Hidden Treasure, the event management company running the Miss Nepal pageant, is appealing to Maoist leaders, police and human rights groups to allow them hold the show, scheduled tentatively in the August third week.

“We should be allowed to hold the pageant within legal parameters,” said Subarna Chhetri, former chairperson of Hidden Treasure. “We are registered with the chief district officer and pay tax on the pageant. Miss Nepal is also registered with the ministry of industries.

“If there is anything illegal, the government can revoke our licence. But if there isn’t, we should be allowed to hold the contest unhindered.”

Though the beauty contest had been generating protests on a small scale for years, the movement snowballed last year under the leadership of the Maoist women’s organisation.

Protesters created a law and order problem on the day the contest was held, staging a sit-in before the venue and tearing down the welcome arch.

This year, the protests started since last month when the Hidden Treasure announced it was accepting applications.

A total of 26 organisations affiliated to the Maoists and Communists have started holding public meetings, accusing the main sponsor, Dabur Nepal, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dabur India, of using women as merchandise to expand its business.

They have also petitioned the chairperson of the constituent assembly, Subhash Nembang, and begun a signature campaign among lawmakers, urging them to prevent the pageant.

The organisers have held four rounds of negotiations with the Maoist women without any fruit.

“Reason fails with them,” an exasperated Chhetri said.

When the Hidden Treasure pointed out to the Maoists that China, the birthplace of their leader Mao Zedong, was holding beauty pageants both domestic and international, a Maoist lawmaker’s reported response was that China was a “failed communist state”.

With a Maoist minister heading the information and communications ministry, the state-run Nepal Television, which had been broadcasting the pageant live in the past, began to drag its feet despite the high-revenue potential of the show, causing the organisers to go to a private television channel.

To add to the pageant’s woes, an international news agency Wednesday reported the show had been cancelled.

“It is gross disinformation,” Chhetri said. “We are yet to finalise a date for the pageant as we are looking for an appropriate venue.”

Since the last seven years, when Dabur Nepal became the main sponsor of the pageant to promote its Dabur Vatika brand of beauty products, the event was held at the prestigious Birendra International Convention Centre, which has also served as the venue of SAARC summits and other regional meets.

However, since May 28, when the newly elected constituent assembly held its first meeting, the BICC has been converted into Nepal’s caretaker parliament and would continue to remain so till the new constitution is drafted, which would take at least two years.

The organisers are therefore desperately looking for another venue but are yet to find an alternative.

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