Kathmandu: Nepal's oldest and best-known beauty pageant Miss Nepal, which was given a new lease of life by Indian sponsor Dabur Nepal, faces the threat of closure after the administration cancelled the programme on the plea that it posed a security threat.
The Chief District Officer Dhurba Sharma sent a note to the organisers, an event-management firm called The Hidden Treasure, hours before the show was to kick off at the Tribhuvan Army Officers' Club in Kathmandu Saturday, asking them to put it off since it threatened to create a law and order problem.
Nearly 20 contestants who had been training for the pageant for over two months now, with some of them coming from the outer districts, were close to tears.
This is the fourth time the pageant has been put on hold, raising grave doubts about whether it would be held at all. It also rules out the possibility of the winners being sent to international contests like Miss World and Miss Universe.
Miss Nepal came under serious threat this year after the Maoists won the April election and spearheaded the new government of Nepal.
The sister organisation of the formerly guerrilla party, the All Nepal Women's Association (Revolutionary), trained its sights on the pageant, saying it was an elitist event that degraded women by reducing them to merchandise for advertisers.
"If multinationals want to sell their products, why can't they use men?" Amrita Thapa Magar, leader of the association, told IANS. "Let them have a Mister Nepal contest."
Over 40 more organisations, mostly related to Communist parties and civil society, have also been supporting the anti-Miss Nepal drive.
The Hidden Treasure has been protesting in vain.
"All our participants are above 18 and join the contest with the approval of their parents," said Subarna Chhetri, past president of the organisation.
"We pay tax to the government and are registered to hold the show. At a time the Maoist party says it will uphold human rights and democracy, the ban on the pageant severely hurts our rights."
Questions are being raised about a deeper motive behind the opposition to the pageant.
While Miss Nepal has not been allowed to be held, other contests and fashion shows, however, have been staged without any opposition.
There is a strong possibility that the involvement of Dabur Nepal, Dabur India's wholly owned subsidiary and Nepal's biggest exporter, could have triggered the opposition.
Some of the organisers said the protesters had asked for the sponsor to be changed.
Last month, Dabur Nepal's factory in south Nepal was closed down by workers affiliated to the Maoists on the ground that the management had falsified profit figures, an allegation the multinational has rejected.
After 27 days' closure, the factory opened last week with the strikers emerging triumphant.
They rejected the management's demand that there would be no pay for the days when production had stopped and wrested a month's salary as bonus despite the closure.
Thapa Magar, however, denies there is a connection between the two.
"The labour strike was by a trade union," she said. "Moreover, we will eventually stop all other pageants that degrade women.
"However, the trend was started by Miss Nepal. So we decided to make an example of the biggest and best-known contest.'
Chhetri predicts darker days ahead.
"We are heading for a cultural revolution under the Maoists just as China did under Mao. The irony is, now China itself is holding beauty pageants with gusto."