The blond, blue-eyed beauty queen who was booed by audience members at a regional Miss IndiaNZ pageant for not "being Indian enough" is concerned that the incident is being used to label the Indian community as racist.
Speaking exclusively to the Weekend Herald Jacinta Lal, 21, who won the Miss IndiaNZ Central beauty pageant, said controversy over the event had distracted from the "inappropriate and offensive" comments made by former TVNZ Breakfast host Paul Henry.
Henry resigned last Sunday after a string of comments about Indians, including one about whether the country's next Governor-General would look and sound "more like a New Zealander" than Sir Anand Satyanand.
News that Ms Lal's ethnicity was questioned by some members of the audience, which first featured in the Herald, has made international headlines.
Ms Lal, whose father is Fijian-Indian and mother is European and born in New Zealand, said yesterday that she had not taken offence because some members of the audience booed and questioned her ethnicity at the pageant in Wellington in April.
She wants to ensure that outrage over the incident does not reflect badly on the Indian community.
"It hurts that people are quick to judge an entire race for what one or two people do. Again, it is the fault of the individuals concerned.
"This issue has been blown out of proportion and it has taken the focus off the inappropriate and offensive comments Paul Henry made on national television, which was the real issue.
"My overall experience of the Miss India New Zealand competition was a positive one. I was fully supported by the organisers of the pageant and indeed encouraged to enter ... and also had the full support of the Indian community as winner of Miss India New Zealand Central."
Ms Lal said booing after her win could have been for different reasons.
"I may have not been their favourite choice for winner ... this could have occurred at any competitive event anywhere in the world.
"The comments were overheard by a friend attending the show who told me she had heard about two people say, 'Is she even Indian?' We don't need to make this an 'us versus them issue'. It is the fault of the individuals concerned. Please don't lay the blame on the Indian community and make them feel guilty for the actions of one or two people."
Serena Fiso, Ms Lal's boyfriend's mother, who heard the comments and put a photo stating so on a Facebook forum on Paul Henry's fan page, has removed her post from the website at the request of pageant organiser Dharmesh Parikh.
Mrs Fiso said she was upset by comments made in international publications that hinted that she was racist. Although a Henry fan, she said she brought the issue to light merely to emphasise that inappropriate comments and actions occurred between all races.
"I'm half Maori, my husband is Samoan. My granddaughter is Rarotongan ... I went there to support the competition. If I was racist, why did I go to the event? I went there to support my son's girlfriend, who's Indian."
Like Ms Lal, Mrs Fiso is hoping the racism debate will stop so the issue can be put to rest. Mr Parikh said he hoped people would remember that the country was multicultural.
This year he was awarded National Director of the Year by the organisers of Miss India World Wide Beauty Pageants in Durban, South Africa.
"I was the proudest man to achieve this as a Kiwi Indian. The world sees us as a nation that embraces diversity ..."By Beck Vass Email Beck