MANILA, Philippines – For a few days, Metro Manila will be the center of the universe.
Miss Universe 2021, Harnaaz Sandhu from India, arrived in Manila on Monday, April 25, in time to be a special guest at the Miss Universe Philippines (MUPH) 2022 coronation night on Saturday, April 30.
Reigning MUPH titleholder Beatrice Luigi Gomez, who finished as part of the Top 5 in the December 2021 competition, is set to crown her successor.
In an interview with Rappler on Tuesday, April 26 at Okada Manila, Harnaaz shared her thoughts on the pageant world, her current studies in public administration, the upcoming Philippine elections, and the advocacy closest to her heart – women empowerment through women’s health.
Some answers have been edited for brevity.
RAPPLER: You started competing in pageants very young, when you were a teenager. What first drove you into the pageant scene?
HARNAAZ: The first time I went onstage, from being a shy girl who was very unconfident, that one day of me being onstage turned my life upside down. I realized this was what I wanted to do – stay onstage, talk about something, do something, and be seen and be heard. And once I realized the importance of being onstage, it gave me the power, the confidence, to be the voice for the voiceless. That ignited the fire in me, and I emerged like a phoenix into the world.
RAPPLER: Filipinos have an affinity for Indian beauty queens, most notably Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen, who won the crown when the pageant was hosted in the Philippines. How do you feel visiting a country that has this love for your peers?
HARNAAZ: It’s like history repeating itself, and it’s just so beautiful to see how Filipinos have been sharing so much love and support.
RAPPLER: How would you compare the pageant culture in India to that of the Philippines?
HARNAAZ: I think it’s very much similar. Of course, the Philippines is one of the top countries when it comes to pageants, but India is also very excited about pageantry, and I think because we have Bollywood also, that also helps us get a sneak peek into the entertainment and fashion industries. And of course, we’re Asians, so there are many similarities!
RAPPLER: You’re taking your Masters in Public Administration. You have an ear for politics, in a way?
HARNAAZ: I’m not interested in being a politician, to be honest, but I’ve always been very keen to learn more about administration and how [the youth] can have our own viewpoints, because I believe that if you want to change the system, you have to be the system, you need to educate yourselves.
RAPPLER: The Philippine elections are coming up in a few weeks. What advice would you give to Filipino voters?
HARNAAZ: Vote for your representative. You have the power to change the system. You have your own viewpoints. Be very wise and make sure that you vote.
RAPPLER: Much like the Philippines’, the state of democracy in India hasn’t been the smoothest. What can you say about that?
HARNAAZ: We are people of all colors, we are people of different communities and different cultures. We have our own perspectives and that’s totally okay, because that’s the beauty of living in a democratic country, when you have freedom of speech and expression. And I think it depends on us as well, how we approach things, because we need to break the barriers, we need to be responsible citizens.
RAPPLER: You’re a huge advocate of women empowerment, especially women’s health. What’s the biggest misconception about women’s health that you want to debunk? A myth you keep on hearing no matter what country you’re in?
HARNAAZ: The biggest myth about menstrual health, specifically, is [the menstruating woman’s] untouchability and that menstruation is impure, which is totally wrong because it’s a natural occurrence and it’s a part of the female body. It’s the stigma and the mindset, and once that breaks, every individual can be confident when they talk about menstruation.
RAPPLER: You love to write couplets (short poems). What do you write about, and what do you like about the writing process?
HARNAAZ: It’s just a way of expressing myself and everything happening around me, especially nature and the beautiful people I meet around the world. It’s mostly romantic, mostly inspiring, and mostly about just giving back to the whole universe. I mostly write in my native language, Punjabi and Hindi, and I’m just trying now to translate my poems so they can be recognized globally.
Filipino pageant fans can catch the show on April 30 as it streams live, for free, starting 7 pm on ABS-CBN Entertainment YouTube Channel, iWantTFC, and The Filipino Channel.
Apart from Harnaaz, previous Miss Universes Pia Wurtzbach, Iris Mittenaere, and Demi-Leigh Tebow will also be present, serving as the night’s hosts. – Rappler.com