Who is Miss Universe winner Harnaaz Sandhu? India's first crown in 21 years

The model and actress became the third woman from India to win the global beauty pageant

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She’s the third woman from India to win the Miss Universe crown but who is Harnaaz Sandhu? The beauty queen, 21, beat out 79 other contestants for the title in the global pageant that was held this year in the resort town of Eilat, Israel.

She rounded out the top five, which consisted of Miss Paraguay Nadia Ferreira, Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane, Miss Colombia Valeria Ayos and Miss Philippines Beatrice Gomez.

After winning, the newly crowned Miss Universe 2021 screamed the Punjabi phrase "Chak de fatte India" in victory.

Miss India wins Miss Universe pageant 2021

Miss India wins Miss Universe pageant 2021

Who is Harnaaz Sandhu?

Sandhu is from Chandigarh, India where she grew up and attended university. Before winning Miss Universe 2021, she was studying for her master’s degree in public administration. She is a model but has also starred in Punjabi films Yaara Diyan Poo Baran and Bai Ji Kuttange.

“It has been an incredible experience to be a part of the acting industry as I got to showcase my hidden talents. I love acting as I enjoy being on the screen and it has been a great learning experience as well,” she told The Indian Express.

Her journey into pageantry began when she won Times Fresh Face in 2017, representing Chandigarh at age 17. Since then, she’s gone on to win Miss Max Emerging Star India 2018, Femina Miss India Punjab 2019 and Miss Diva 2021, which led her to represent India at the Miss Universe pageant.

She has said she began to advocate body positivity after being bullied in her teenage years for being skinny.

"But this made me stronger, as I realised that I can’t give into the opinions of others," she told the website Healthshots. "The only person I need to impress should be myself. In an attempt to impress the world, we can sometimes lose sight of who we are. But if you believe in yourself, you can conquer anything in this world."

One of Sandhu's biggest inspirations is former Miss World and actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas and, in her spare time, the newly crowned beauty queen enjoys yoga, dancing, cooking, horse riding and playing chess, according to the Miss Universe website.

As the winner, she will now move to New York City where she will spend a year working alongside the Miss Universe Organisation, working towards her goals and wider aims.

Her Miss Universe journey

Before winning the crown, Sandhu's journey began in the preliminaries, where she wore a stunning maroon cap-sleeved one-piece swimsuit during the swimwear portion of the competition.

During the national costume segment, she wore a gold embellished lehenga, and carried a traditional wedding parasol. The outfit paid homage to Indian women as protectors and was designed by Abhinav Mishra, with Reza Shariffi custom-creating the umbrella.

"My national costume is a royal visual representation of a woman that showcases the Indian queen, strong yet delicate. Its elements are symbolic towards the protection instinct of a woman. The key elements of the costume are mirrors and the umbrella. The representative element of the national costume is the colour pink," she wrote on Instagram.

She also added: "Thank you @abhinavmishra_ for such an intricate piece of art that is my national costume and today as I walked on that stage, I felt a sense of empowerment. I dedicate my performance to all those strong women out there who face battles every day with a smile. You're a warrior and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise."

After she advanced further in the competition, she was asked two questions: one in the Top 5 round and another in the Top 3. The first question was about the climate change crisis and how she could convince other people to also believe in it.

"Honestly, my heart breaks to see how nature is going through a lot of problems, and it’s all due to our irresponsible behaviour," she replied. "I totally feel like this is the time to take actions and talk less, because each action could either kill or save nature. Prevent and protect is better than repent and repair, and this is what I’m trying to convince you guys to do."

She was later asked for her advice to the young women watching her on how to deal with the pressures they face today.

"I think the biggest pressure the youth today is facing is to believe in themselves; to know that you are unique and that [is] what makes you beautiful. Stop comparing yourselves with others and let’s talk [about] more important things that [are] happening worldwide. I think this is what you need to understand. Come out and speak for yourself because you are the leader of your life, you are the voice of your own. I believed in myself, and that’s why I’m standing here today."

The 10 past winners of Miss Universe

2020 – Andrea Meza, Mexico

2019 – Zozibini Tunzi, South Africa

2018 – Catriona Gray, Philippines

2017 – Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, South Africa

2016 – Iris Mittenaere, France

2015 – Pia Wurtzbach, Philippines

2014 – Paulina Vega, Colombia

2013 – Gabriela Isler, Venezuela

2012 – Olivia Culpo, USA

2011 – Leila Lopes, Angola

See highlights from the Miss Universe 2021 show:

Updated: December 13, 2021, 9:10 AM