By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu
Would-be beauty queens in Nepal have expressed their disappointment after the postponement of the Miss Nepal contest for the sixth time this year.
It should have been held at the weekend but local authorities banned it after pressure from the Maoist party which heads the government.
Contestants due to have taken part have complained of being "victimised".
The Maoists say that the contest discriminates against certain ethnic groups and demeans women.
It is not often that a beauty pageant is scheduled to take place at the army's headquarters.
But that is where the organisers, event management company Hidden Treasure, had planned to hold the contest - such were the sensitivities it raised.
At the last moment they got a letter from Kathmandu's district government. "Keeping peace and security in mind, do not let this event take place," it said.
The event's antagonist is the women's wing of the Maoist party, the All Nepal Women's Organisation (Revolutionary). Last month it stormed the offices of the pageant's Indian sponsor, Dabur Nepal, and locked out its staff.
Protesters say beauty contests are anti-women (Photos: missnepal.com)
The Maoists' most senior woman, Pampha Bhusal, told the BBC the contest discriminated against certain ethnic groups and against shorter and darker women, and that it demeaned women by using them to advertise toothpaste and shampoo.
But the organisers say it is open to all and that the women have been helping flood victims and working in socially useful campaigns.
One contestant, 19-year-old Pranayna KC, said the Maoists were violating young women's rights. The women and the organisers have been in constant dialogue with the former rebels but to no avail.
"The way they talk to us, they always think they are right. Everything they say is right, every view that they say is right," she said. "I feel like we are under a dictatorship more than being a republic or democratic."
The Maoists' attitude towards beauty pageants is not consistent
The organisers and contestants say that there have been anonymous and threatening telephone calls against them, some in the middle of the night.
The Miss Nepal pageant personifies the quarrel between groups of people with very different social visions.
On the one hand are those who say beauty pageants are a force for good and for the promotion of what is beautiful. On the other are those like the Maoists who say they are un-Nepalese and do nothing to improve the lot of women.
In the middle are many more. Another Nepali woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said she did not like the Maoists' attempts to control people's lives but on the other hand felt there were better causes than Miss Nepal to fight for.
Opponents of the ban say the pageant builds up women's skills and profile in all sorts of fields. But Amrita Thapa, head of the Maoist women's organisation, says the contest should decide whether it is about physical beauty or about professional skills and that it cannot be both.
The Maoists have not been entirely consistent about their own reasons for opposing the pageant. Until recently they based their argument on gender, saying the contest demeaned women.
But Pampha Bhusal now says they support certain such pageants including one called Miss Tamang, open to members of one populous but traditionally marginalised ethnic group. Several similar pageants have continued to take place amid the current controversy.
The row has increased the perception of the Maoists, now Nepal's biggest elected party, as being somewhat puritanical and preoccupied with social control. But they say that just because other countries hold such contests, that is no reason for Nepal to do so.
Meanwhile 17 young women's hopes of becoming Miss Nepal and taking part in Miss World in South Africa in December look increasingly bleak.