Beauty queen in race row

By Beck Vass

Jacinta Lal of Wellington heard jeers as she was crowned a regional winner in the Miss IndiaNZ Pageant. Photo / Supplied
Jacinta Lal of Wellington heard jeers as she was crowned a regional winner in the Miss IndiaNZ Pageant. Photo / Supplied

A blonde, blue-eyed woman is at the centre of a new racism row after winning a Miss IndiaNZ beauty contest and then being accused of not looking Indian enough.

Jacinta Lal, 21, was booed and has been the subject of complaints to organisers from Indian spectators who, she says, are no better than TV presenter Paul Henry.

Ms Lal, whose father is a Fiji Indian and mother a New Zealander, won the central district Miss IndiaNZ contest in Wellington in April - but the row has only now been revealed after the Henry incident.

Festival organiser Dharmesh Parikh said he had received complaints questioning Jacinta Lal's eligibility to be in the pageant.

Ms Lal's supporters say they are disgusted at the way she was booed.

"It was just appalling," said her boyfriend's mother, Serena Fiso. "It was so disgraceful. We were just dumbfounded."

Mrs Fiso put a photo of Jacinta on a Paul Henry fan site on Facebook on Monday.

"The Indian community seem to have taken great offence to [Henry's] comments but when I attended that beauty pageant, I saw huge offence coming back the other way," she said.

Ms Lal said she had heard people saying that "I wasn't Indian looking enough to win the pageant".

"But despite those small-minded people that made those comments, there were many Indians who encouraged me to enter the pageant.

"So just because some narrow-minded people make a comment like that we can't assume that all Indians think the same way.

"There is no difference between what Paul Henry is saying and what those select few Indians were saying. They are all wrong and should not say things like that ..."

Mr Parikh said he had assured the "two or three" complainants that Ms Lal was Indian.

He said she also raised eyebrows when she came to Auckland for the national Miss IndiaNZ pageant in August.

"People said: 'Oh my God look at this blonde girl coming to Miss IndiaNZ, what is she doing here?' Whoever these people are, they are a very small part of it.

"This event is called Miss IndiaNZ, with an N-Z, and I strongly emphasise that this event is not an Indian event, it is a Kiwi-Indian event, so you must have New Zealand residency, New Zealand citizenship and you must have some sort of Indian background."

Mr Parikh, who has lived in New Zealand for 24 years, said anyone caught making racial judgments should be called on them regardless of what side the prejudice was on.

"It is a little bit sad, but it is unfortunate for Jacinta as well because she should be accepted into this Indian world as well because she is a beautiful Indian girl."

He said it was a person's right to choose their affiliation with a country.

"I have twins that were born here in New Zealand and only God knows what they're going to claim when they grow up and I don't want, in any way, that to be a factor for them to succeed in life in New Zealand ..."

Auckland Indian Association present Harshad Patel said that after the Paul Henry controversy, it was disappointing to hear people had booed Ms Lal.

"They shouldn't be doing that by looking at her hair or whatever - she's Indian. She's got Indian blood, so she should qualify. They should find out the facts. They should be more open-minded."

- NZ Herald

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