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Miss worldly - an editorial from the London Times - The Times, London

Editorial ()
22 November 1996

Title : Miss Worldly
Who is to define obscenity in the land of the Kamasutra?
Author : Editorial
Publication : The Times, London
Date : November 22, 1996

(This editorial was published in The Afternoon,
Mumbai, November 26, 1996)

Not since the Trojan War has a beauty contest threatened
such dire consequences. Sniffer dogs are patrolling the
giant stadium, two all-women platoons of paramilitary
police are on standby for snatch arrests, bomb squads are
in place and police will form a ring of steel around the
arena in Bangalore where Miss World will be crowned
tomorrow. In recent years the contest has provoked
catcalls, demonstrations and shrill denunciation by
feminists protests at this festival of the female form.
But rarely has it threatened a general strike or the self
- immolation by fire of activists.

The bemused organisers can be forgiven for wondering how
the popular show, likely to attract an audience of two
billion people, can have provoked such a furore. India is
a country where entertainment is big business: its cinema
industry is one of the largest in the world, its
festivals, pageants and wedding extravaganzas are
occasions for public display, exhibition and exuberance.
India is anxious to become part of the international
television world, showcase its diversity and demonstrate
that it is a thoroughly modern society. Indeed, Indian
women have on several occasions been the winners of
previous competitions, profitably capitalising on their

The Miss World contest has also made gallant attempts to
get away from its past: contestants have to demonstrate
charm, intelligence, ambition and grace as well as an
alluring figure. The swimsuit parade, has already been
held in the Seychelles, a setting where such kit is more
suited to the landscape. As The Times of India noted
yesterday, this is not a celebration of nudity or
obscenity. And who is to define obscenity in the land of
the Kamasutra? "Surely Indians are not so faint-hearted
as to faint at the sight of a row of beauties parading in
colourful, it somewhat abbreviated, costumes?"

But matters are not so simple. There is a distinct
disenchantment in non-Western countries at being offered
hand-me-down entertainment that has gone out of fashion
in London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles. Some Indians
have become resentful of the dominance of Western
entertainment on their airwaves and screens. Hindu
activists have denounced what they see as an insidious
attempt by the West to undermine traditional values and
subvert Indian morals. Many in the West would have some
sympathy with this cultural assertiveness. And yet the
first Indian kiss on celluloid dates back to the 1930s.

India is a sufficiently diverse society to withstand a
temporary influx of preening pulchritude. Miss World will
be crowned tomorrow. But no one is obliged to worship at
her court.

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