India’s Harnaaz Kaur Sandhu won the Miss Universe 2021 contest, defeating 79 other women from different countries and backgrounds. After a tough competition, the pageant crowned its 70th Miss Universe on Dec 12 in Israel. The runners up included Miss Paraguay Nadia Ferreira in 2nd and Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane in 3rd position. The winner of the last year’s beauty competition, Andrea Meza from Mexico, presented the tiara to the Miss Universe 2021 winner. It was the third time that an Indian contestant won the biggest beauty contest in the world. Harnaaz Sandhu received loud applause from the audience as she broke down in tears of joy.
Besides Sandhu, only two other Indian women have won the Miss Universe crown for India in the past. One was Sushmita Sen in 1994 and the second, Lara Dutta in 2000.
About the Miss Universe 2021 Winner
The 21-years old Miss Universe 2021 winner was born in Punjab, India, where she attended school and college in Chandigarh. She started competing in pageantry as a teenager and has won several titles including, Times Fresh Face Miss Chandigarh 2017, Miss Max Emerging Star India 2018, Femina Miss India Punjab 2019, and LIVA Miss Diva Universe 2021. She also competed in Femina Miss India 2019 but fell short of 11 spots.
Harnaaz has also starred in some Punjabi films, including ‘Yaara Diyan Poo Baran’ and ‘Bai Ji Kuttange’.
Her interests and hobbies include acting, singing, dancing, cooking, yoga, swimming, horse riding, and fitness and outdoor activities. She also writes couplets in Punjabi and supports women’s causes and constitutional rights.
Top 10 Finalists
80 contestants also included memorable debuts from the Kingdom of Bahrain by Manar Nadeem Deyani and Morocco by Kawtar Benhalima. However, the excruciating process of elimination only left behind ten contestants. They went through a series of tests, including displaying national costumes, swimwear, and demonstrating public speaking skills.
The group of 10 was then halved, leaving only Valeria Ayos (Colombia), Harnaaz Sandhu (India), Nadia Ferreira (Paraguay), Beatrice Gomez (Philippines) and Lalela Mswane (South Africa) in the top 5. Eventually, Ferreira and Gomez were sent packing too. Miss Universe 2021 winner gave a motivational speech for the young generation, encouraging them to know that they are all beautiful and stop comparing themselves with each other.
Controversy Surrounding the Grand Event
The glamourous event went on amidst the global calls to boycott the pageant because of Israeli government policies. The host country has been facing criticism around the world for its treatment of Palestinian citizens. Many countries and contestants announced to disassociate with the competition in protest against Israel. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel urged the participants to withdraw from the pageant and avoid complicity in Israel’s apartheid regime and violation of human rights.
Malaysia, which was an active participant in the pageant, refused to attend the 2021 event. It also did not hold any Miss Malaysia competition due to COVID-19 restrictions. According to reports, Malaysia has also banned Israeli athletes from taking part in any of its events. In October, Miss World Greece 2019, Rafaela Plastira said that she could not attend the event like nothing happened when people were fighting for their lives in Israel and Palestine.
South Africa also called out its national Lalela Mswane to drop out of the competition and withdrew its support for her. However, Miss South Africa Organization helped her reach Israel and compete. Other than Malaysia, only Indonesia was the other nation to boycott Miss Universe held in Israel. The United Arab Emirates has normalized its diplomatic ties with Israel but did not send a candidate due to “time constraints in selecting its winner”. Morocco and Bahrain have also become friends with Israel, so their nationals could compete in the contest.