Miss India Harnaaz Sandhu was crowned Miss Universe 2021 during the pageant’s finals held Sunday in Israel. Sandhu took over the title from Miss Universe 2020 Andrea Meza from Mexico, whose reign had only lasted for seven months. Meza was crowned in May of this year after the 2020 edition of the pageant was postponed due to the still ongoing pandemic. 

The 21-year-old Miss India bested all of 80 contestants who showed up to represent each of their countries during the live broadcast at the Universe Dome in Eilat. Sandhu was crowned by Meza after Nadia Ferreira of Paraguay was placed as the first runner-up and Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane was named second runner-up.

The final question-and-answer portion of Miss Universe 2021 had the judges deliberating on the best answer from candidates in response to the question: “What advice would you give to young women watching on how to deal with the pressures they face today?” Sandhu’s winning response determined her win when she answered, “Come out, speak for yourself because you are the leader of your life." 

Miss India was selected as Miss Universe 2021 by a judging panel comprising eight women, including previous titleholder - Iris Mittenaere from France and some TV personalities such as Adamari Lopez and Adriana Lima.

Indians crowded earlier as Miss Universe

Sandhu is the third woman from India to bag the Miss Universe crown in the long-running pageant’s 70th edition with Sushmita Sen winning the title in 1994 and Lara Dutta Bhupathi crowned in 2000. Scores of Miss India supporters could be seen screaming “Chakh De Fatte India,” in a video shared on social media as Sandhu was being crowned.

All about Harnaaz Sandhu

Her win is considered to be historic having snagged the title after 21 years since Lara Dutta Bhupathi. According to the Hindustan Times, the new pageant queen has been well-honed having started joining pageantry competitions since her teenage years. Sandhu is a professional model from Chandigarh, the capital of the Indian state of Punjab. The 21-year-old is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Public Administration.

She has won several titles in her home country such as Times Fresh Face back in 2017, Miss Chandigarh in 2017 and Mis Max Emerging Star India 2018. She also won the title of Femina Miss India Punjab 2019.

Sandhu also starred in several local films and advocates strongly for women’s rights. Priyanka Chopra Jonas is said to be her muse and inspiration. Her views and stance on environmental issues such as global warming and nature conservation have been her driving force to pursue the pageant’s ambassadorship. 

Miss Paraguay, Nadia Ferreira; Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane; and Miss India, Harnaaz Sandhu The final three Miss Universe contestants (L to R) Miss Paraguay, Nadia Ferreira; Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane; and Miss India, Harnaaz Sandhu pose on stage during the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 13, 2021. Photo by Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images