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Since 1st March, 1999
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Something aMiss in Miss India
- Beauty queen accused of lying about marital status

Mumbai, March 29: Is she a Miss or a Mrs'

The question — very different from the celebrity sharp-shooting that has brought out would-be beauty queens’ addiction to such noble personalities and themes as Mother Teresa and cosmic peace — is now staring at the Miss India pageant.

Laxmi Pandit, the first runner-up crowned Miss India-World on Saturday, has been accused of lying serially, including on a fundamental eligibility criterion. It has been alleged that she is a Mrs, not a Miss.

The jury is still out on whether the issue is a moral question or one related to the housing problem in the metropolis, but it may have serious consequences for Laxmi’s crown.

Times Infotainment, the organiser of the pageant, today postponed a news conference to introduce the winners and has scheduled another tomorrow.

Times Infotainment issued a statement saying that it was “in the process of corroborating the issues that have surfaced involving the recently crowned Ms World 2004 —Ms Laxmi Pandit. Once we are thoroughly satisfied with our fact-finding process, we will be in a position to officially present the winners of the Pond’s Femina Miss India 2004 at a select media interaction.

“We are committed to the basic credo of the pageant and will work towards ensuring that all rules and regulations laid down are respected and adhered to by all the contestants and the winners.”

The rules for the Miss India contest lay down that the applicant, who must be between 18 and 24 years of age, “is not/has not been married, and has never had a marriage annulled or never given birth to a child, is not now pregnant nor a parent”.

“Incorrect information will result in disqualification, whether discovered prior to, during, or after the finals,” the rules say.

Laxmi, a 22-year-old dancer who lived in a rented flat in the northern suburb of Malad (west), is the wife of Siddharth Mishra, claims her landlady Suhasini Kadake. According to the landlady, Laxmi and Siddharth rented the flat together and in their submission to the police station had mentioned that they were “a married couple”.

When she saw her tenant being crowned, the landlady went public through a television channel.

As if those were not enough, Maureen Wadia, the person behind the Gladrags Mega Model contest, has come up with several charges against Laxmi, claiming that the girl was disqualified from the contest last year after “various discrepancies” were found in her bio data.

“Laxmi had entered the mega model contest in 2003. However, we were forced to disqualify her following discrepancies in the information provided to us by her,” Wadia told PTI. “Though in her entry form she had filled her birth year as 1981, she appeared to have forgotten the information when she turned up for the personal interviews three months later.”

Wadia said there were discrepancies about the place of her birth, too, and they were forced to disqualify her.

Wadia said Siddharth has enrolled for this year’s Gladrags Manhunt contest. “The address provided by Siddharth and Laxmi were the same,” Wadia said.

Laxmi was not available for comment, but she has insisted that she was not married, a Miss India spokesperson said. She would be present at the conference tomorrow.

The controversy has echoes of a similar dust storm that swirled around Miss Universe 2002. Oxana Fedorova of Russia, who had won the title, was uncrowned for violating her contract amid reports suggesting that she might be married and pregnant. She denied the rumours and insisted she had left willingly. The crown had passed on to Justine Pasek of Panama, the first Miss Universe ever to ascend to the throne under such circumstances.

But while the Russian’s problem was one of individual choice, Laxmi’s seems to have been forced by the rules of getting a flat in housing societies, especially in suburban Mumbai, where landlords often have exacting “moral standards”.

Many couples live together without being married and are forced to give conjugal undertakings because it is difficult to find a flat otherwise. “This is the problem for so many young people in the city. So many of us do the same. Why bring it up like that'” asked a girl who identified herself as Laxmi’s friend.

“Many girls from other cities live in with their boyfriends (Laxmi was originally from Bangalore) to cut down costs, too. It’s a usual practice,” she added.

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