Women’s power at the forefront: India is proud of its excellent results

Harnaaz Kaur Sandhu, Miss Universe 2021
Image Credit: Provided

On December 14, Harnaaz Kaur Sandhu was crowned the 70th Miss Universe in the 2021 pageant held in Eilat, Israel. Model and actor from Chandigarh, Harnaaz brought the crown back to India after 21 years. It turns out that she herself is 21. ‘Naaz’ – means pride, glory, magnificence, splendor and beauty in Persian, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. Harnaaz certainly made the whole country proud of her.

Before her, Lara Dutta was Miss Universe in 2000 and, before her, Sushmita Sen in 1994. Indian beauties have won the title of “Miss World” more often in competition, six times to be precise, starting with Reita Faria in 1966 Manushi Chhillar (2017), Priyanka Chopra (2000), Yukhta Mookhey (1999), Diana Hayden (1997) and Aishwarya Rai (1994) were also crowned “Miss World”.

Additionally, Dia Mirza became Miss Asia Pacific International in 2000, and Nicole Faria won the title of Miss Earth in 2010. Among these beauty queens, Rai and Chopra have become international celluloid superstars, while Sen and others also performed very well.

The usual suspects

Today, some people have a habit of belittling beauty pageants and their winners. They believe that such competitions are sexist and demeaning to women, objectifying and trivializing them. Everyone knows that the worth of a human being cannot be reduced to his physical attributes alone.

There is much more to all of us than it seems. Without a doubt, no matter how we look, we have so much to contribute to the world. Our self-esteem shouldn’t depend entirely on how we look, either.

Yet can we deny that beauty, which is a platonic attribute and a divine quality, remains a cherished human value? Balance, grace, elegance, demeanor and – most importantly – character are all valuable factors that contribute to a well-developed and attractive personality.

All of these qualities were amply evident in Harnaaz, especially the way she asked an awkward, some would say, demeaning question suddenly asked her by show host and presenter Steve Harvey.

“I hear you doing some really good animal imitations,” he said, “let’s listen to your best. Harnaaz, taken by surprise, really shone in his comeback. Showing both presence of mind and tremendous confidence, she replied, “Oh my God Steve, I didn’t expect to do this on the world stage.” Then, recovering, she continued, “I have to do this, I have no other option.” She took it in the right spirit, then proceeded, with perfect composure, to shout.

Dehumanizing question

I have seen the clip several times. After the first meow, Harnaaz really got into the act, his hands lowered to look like cat paws and girdled another couple. Rising in decibels, the last was even more convincing than the first. Harvey has been rightly criticized for asking such a “crass” and “dehumanizing” question. Perhaps the script was presented to him without much choice. But it was certainly not a gentleman of him to go ahead.

As for Harnaaz, she also won the last round of questions. To the question “What advice would you give young women watching on how to deal with the pressures they face today?” She replied, “Well, I think the biggest pressure young people face today is to believe in themselves.”

Knowing that you are unique and that is what makes you beautiful. Stop comparing yourself to others and let’s talk about more important things that are happening in the world. I think this is what you need to understand. Go out, speak for yourself, for you are the leader of your life. You are your own voice. I believed in myself and that is why I am here today. This response, for which she was applauded, pushed her to cross the finish line, ahead of the other two contenders.

Controversies and beauty contests go hand in hand. No wonder this one was also marked by its lot. In addition to the embarrassing and unnecessary ‘animal animation’ issue I mentioned earlier, contestants were targeted for traveling to Israel for the final.

Once again, Harnaaz has excelled in the way she has handled this problem. “We come here to unite and share cultures,” she said, “This is not where we should be talking about disparities. It’s something that speaks of unity and inspires each other. The competition was aimed “to embrace everyone in the world, especially women,” she added, “I’m really having fun myself and my trip to Israel because it’s a beautiful country.” Many seasoned diplomats could learn a lesson or two from her.

Harnaaz has a long way to go, many more steps to take, and much more to accomplish. The whole country wishes him good luck. In addition, she already has a fan across the world.

Leena Nair, recently appointed CEO of one of the world’s most prestigious fashion brands, Chanel, is another high performing person of Indian descent who has made us proud. Born and raised in Kolhapur, what one might call “middle” India, she graduated from Walchand College of Engineering, Sangli, with a BA in Electrical Engineering. She then obtained her master’s degree in management at XLRI – Xavier School of Management.

First a management trainee at Hindustan Lever, she became head of human resources at Unilever, taking her place in the management team of the multinational food and consumer goods giant. Earlier this year, she was also on Fortune India’s Most Powerful Women list. Today, she is the second Indian, after Indra Nooyi who was CEO of PepsiCo, to run an international company.

A true genius

The third, of the many possible great Indian women that I will highlight, is an academic. Born in 1984, Dr Neena Gupta, professor at the Indian Institute of Statistics (ISI) of Statistics and Mathematics (ISI), Kolkata, won the prestigious Ramanujan Prize for Young Mathematicians in Developing Countries for 2021.

An expert in commutative algebra and affine algebraic geometry, Gupta also won the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in 2019, one of the highest honors in Indian science.

Three women, in three distinct fields of human endeavor, have outdone themselves. Given India’s long tradition of producing the most remarkable and inspiring female leaders, we can be sure that many more will follow in their footsteps.


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