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WASHINGTON - A group of exiled Tibetans hopes to raise awareness of the Tibetan cause with a "Miss Tibet" beauty contest this year, but critics view it as a poor way of drawing attention to the remote Chinese-run region, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. "We should approach our cause from different fronts," Lobsang Wangyal, a freelance journalist based in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala who is organizing the contest, told RFA's Tibetan service. "I've always thought occasional rallies and demonstrations shouldn�t be the only means of advancing our cause." "If one Tibetan girl gets entry into the 'Miss World' contest, you can imagine how would that help our cause. One billion people will see it....That is one way to make people all over the world know about Tibet," he said. A team of six Tibetans based in Dharamsala aims to hold a "Shambala Miss Tibet" pageant there on Oct. 12, 2002, and nine young women have already entered, Wangyal said. All nine are expatriates, but Wangyal hopes that will change. Shambala is a mythical kingdom in Tibetan Buddhist mythology. "I am trying to get participants from inside Tibet. I know the Chinese will object. If they come, they will certainly face great hardship. But I want to appeal for their participation - it will make the event really meaningful, and we'll pay all their expenses," he said. Although Tibetan Buddhism places great emphasis on inner beauty, outer beauty will count in selecting a young woman to represent the 5.9 million Tibetans inside Tibet as well as the roughly 140,000 Tibetans who have fled their landlocked homeland. Any unmarried Tibetan woman aged 18 to 26 and roughly five feet five inches tall may enter, Wangyal said. The winner, first runner-up, and second runner-up will split the prize: educational scholarships worth $5,000 U.S. And those who don�t make the top three may compete for several other titles: Shambala Miss Talented, Shambala Miss Personality, Shambala Miss Beautiful Smile, Shambala Miss Beautiful Skin, Shambala Miss Beautiful Hair, and Shambala Miss Photogenic. In late April, pageant Webmaster Tenzen Namgyal launched a homepage devoted to the contest, The Web site lists "[drawing] international attention to the plight of Tibetans living under Chinese occupation within Tibet" among the contest's key goals. Its motto: "Women with wisdom from the roof of the world." Not all Tibetans are enamored with the idea, however. Lobsang Rabgyal, a doctoral candidate who took part in RFA's Tibetan-language call-in program, criticized the "Miss Tibet" contest as sexist and ineffective. "I don't foresee any positive impact of this," Rabgyal said. "It's a mistake to give the impression that all girls should be beautiful and boys should courageous. These are misconceptions created by a patriarchal society." Internet users posting messages to the Tibetan Web site are sharply divided on the issue. "We don�t need a 'Miss Tibet' contest. We need more freedom fighters instead," wrote one. "I would rather put my energy into something productive for our country rather than having a stupid 'Miss Tibet'... No sensible Tibetan girls will ever take part." Wrote another: "The concept of organizing a beauty pageant is indeed a splendid idea.... Such a platform provides a perfect opportunity to the upcoming new generation [of] smart Tibetan gals." Neither the "Miss Universe" nor the 'Miss World' pageant currently includes contestants from Taiwan, which China views as a breakaway province, or Tibet, formerly an autonomous region that China annexed in 1951 and has governed with a heavy hand ever since. Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and the new Tibetan prime minister in exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, have yet to comment publicly on the issue. Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts news, information, and cultural programming to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia-giving them a voice as well as a means of connecting with the world and with one another. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.


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