Indians swap swimsuits for saris in beauty quest

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 May, 1994, 12:00am

DRESSED in saris instead of swimsuits, 15 young women will vie this week to be the first Miss India Hong Kong.

The winner will represent Hong Kong in New York on May 21 in the Miss India Worldwide contest.

The bathing-suit section - a staple of any beauty pageant - was dropped to convince conservative Indians to let their daughters compete in a contest that is focusing more on ''poise and culture'' than striking looks.

Satellite television's Sophyia will host the evening.

But the run-up to the black-tie event at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile on Wednesday has been marred by cattiness, accusations of nepotism and sexist bet-placing by Indian men.

''Some people make sniggering remarks. It's sad but it's bound to happen,'' India Club committee chairman Mira Mahtani said.

''But we think that because this is a black-tie dinner at a five-star hotel, most people who come will enjoy it as a prestigious social event, and not to make fun of the girls.'' Competitors will be judged on grace, eloquence, confidence and talent as they parade in saris and evening wear.

There are no restrictions on height or weight; the only conditions are that the young women must be between 17 and 25 and have at least one parent of Indian descent.

''The rules specify swimsuits cannot be shown, it's a cultural thing. Girls wouldn't join otherwise. Some of them don't mind, but their parents wouldn't like it. We have to respect our Indian tradition,'' Mrs Mahtani said.

Mrs Mahtani, who is descended from the Harilela clan, said Hong Kong's Indian girls had been left behind: young women from Canada, Japan, Denmark, South Africa, Germany, Britain, Singapore and many other countries will be at New York.

''The Hong Kong Indian community should also be represented,'' Mrs Mahtani said.

But some Indians in Hong Kong have said the event was ''nonsense'' and ''a waste of time''.

They said it would be impossible for the Indian judges to be objective because the community was close-knit and that the idea was little more than a publicity vehicle for the organisers, they said.

But Mrs Mahtani insisted the pageant would give an identity to young Indian women in Hong Kong.

All the 550 dinner seats - at $700 a head - sold out within days.

Miss India Hong Kong will win tickets to New York, $15,000 in cash, a television set, a stereo, jewellery, fashion accessories and a watch.