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November 28 1997

Women members of India´s pro-Hindu main opposition party have assailed the Miss World beauty pageant, won this year by an Indian Christian, as "an affront to Indian womanhood."

Diana Hayden, 24, a Eurasian Catholic, won the Miss World title Nov. 22 in the Seychelles.

The women´s wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people´s party) called Hayden´s victory "an insult to us, as an Indian has gained cheap publicity by exposing herself."

"Selling one´s body is an indecent offense" and "a woman without modesty is equivalent to an animal," the BJP said in a Nov. 23 statement, warning young Indians such as Hayden to "mend their errant ways."

BJP feminist Premila Nesargi petitioned an Indian court in 1996 to stop the country´s first Miss World contest. The opposition forced pageant organizers to shift the swimsuit competition to the Seychelles.

She told UCA News Nov. 24 that she opposed beauty pageants "because they showcase not beauty, but vulgarity," adding that Hayden´s participation has "degraded the purity of Indian women."

Nesargi denied that Hayden´s victory offended the BJP because she is a Christian, adding, "Whether Christian, Hindu or Muslim, what matters to us is that she is an Indian woman."

The contest´s live telecast and later news clippings showed Hayden making a sign of the cross after winning the title.

Not all women agree with Nesargi. All Indian Women´s Conference secretary Pamilla Kalhan said Hayden´s victory models a success story for young Indians.

"I do not think beauty events are pageants to show vulgarity if they are organized properly, but we want the pageant participants to do some good work for society," Kalhan told UCA News Nov. 25.

Hayden, the third Indian to win the Miss World crown, hails from Hyderabad, capital of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where her father, Aubrey Hayden, 48, runs a telephone booth.

Hayden has announced that she will use the US$100,000 prize money to help her family and to aid charities in India.