Miss World costume drama

Tim McGirk New Delhi
Wednesday 16 October 1996 23:02

First they tried to run the chickens out of town. Now they're after the girls. The same protesters in the south Indian city of Bangalore who recently tried to close down the fast-food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken, are now threatening to sabotage the Miss World pageant.

Sponsors of the contest are taking the threats seriously: the organisers are transplanting the most controversial event in the pageant, in which women slink around in swimming-costumes, out of Bangalore to the beaches of the Seychelles.

Fried-chicken legs and leggy beauties may not appear to share much in common, but for a Bangalore professor of constitutional law, MD Nanjundaswamy, they represent an assault by multi-national companies on Indian values. "The multi-nationals are trying to introduce a meat-and-beer culture in India," the professor, a vegetarian teetotaller, said. He described the pageant as "Rupert Murdoch's occupation of the Indian mind".

The Australian media magnate's satellite television network has for several years now been dumping all the dross of Western soap operas and second-rate films on to India.

Opposition to the Miss World pageant has united leftists, right-wing Hindus, Muslim militants and feminists in an unlikely alliance. Some have vowed to set themselves on fire if the contest goes ahead.

Others, led by Prof Nanjundaswamy, have threatened to burn the stadium where the contestants will parade before a panel of judges which includes the Briton Eric Morley. Spectators are being charged up to pounds 500 a seat, much more than an Indian labourer earns in a year.

Waqas Ahmed, from the Students of Islamic Organisations, said the contest will "prove detrimental to our delicate social fabric, which is already under onslaught. The display of nudity is against our social values."

India had always shrugged off beauty pageants until last year, when Indians won both the Miss Universe and the Miss World contests.

Then India seemed to wake up to its own attractive women. Newspapers and magazines began to fill up with photographs of middle-class girls aspiring to be super-models, instead of dentists and accountants.

Yet it is likely that the Miss World pageant would have been driven out of Bangalore months ago but for the main organiser, Amitabh Bachchan, who is India's best-loved film star, whom few politicians dare to cross. Still, he has decided to move the show to Seychelles in 1997, a year early, rather than face another bout with the protesters.

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