Q. You were crowned Miss India in June 2017, and then Miss World in November of the same year. What was this tremendous journey like?

A. My journey from Miss India to Miss World was a rollercoaster ride. I think I was introduced to so many new things in life that I knew nothing about. All I knew was that I wanted to give my best. I wanted to take my culture, my views, everything I was taught. And I wanted to take India in front of the whole world. I knew that when I will go there they are going to look for the whole country in one person, which is going to be me. And that was my training. I think it was because of all these things that I was able to express my views, my opinions better, and was able to show the world what I am and what India is all about. I don’t think there’s any other platform where so many countries are together. There is no other platform where the entire world is watching you and hearing your opinions.

Q. You won the Miss India title while you were studying MBBS in Sonepat, Haryana. And then, of course, you shot to prominence on the world stage winning the blue crown. It’s an unlikely journey—from the world of medicine to Miss World. 

A. It was never like MBBS to Miss World for me. It was always, Miss World with MBBS. In fact, Miss World came into my life much before MBBS did. It was my childhood dream.

Q. Your visit to Delhi [on 6 February] as part of your “Beauty with a Purpose” tour, aims to spread awareness of menstrual hygiene.  How important is it for you to be associated with such an initiative?

A. I started this project as an aspiring health worker when I was studying medicine. And of course, I am doing this not only because I am a woman myself, and because I belong to a family of doctors. I think being a citizen, being a human being, it’s important for us to have these kinds of initiatives in life, because when you spread happiness, when you are able to take small steps to make something good, it adds to your own happiness.  I don’t know if I can change the world but if I can change one life that will make me feel very good. And as an individual, I took up this responsibility for myself. Not just as an aspiring doctor but as a Miss World too, it has become a responsibility for me.

Q. At what point in your life did you start advocating for this cause?

A. I think it was there in the back of my head during my teenage years, but I had not spoken about it. But when I was 18, I actually started to go out and speak to people about it on my own with the help of my parents. And slowly when I got into college, I was engaged with this issue in my medical college. We had access to certain villages over there. We used to go there and visit certain government schools in Delhi. When I won Miss India, I was able to visit more than 20 village communities in three states of northern India. And now after Miss World, it is the whole world that is involved in my project. This is how my project has grown and now I know it is being spoken about more, not only by me but the government is paying more attention to it as well. Celebrities are talking about it and there is more light being shed on this situation.

Q. Any particular incident that strengthened your commitment towards the issue of menstrual hygiene?

A. There were a lot of events. But one of it was definitely when my domestic help was diagnosed with fibrous tissues in her uterus, which was because of some infection. And the most common cause for it is poor menstrual hygiene. And it led her through a lot of bad circumstances in life. Because there is huge pressure on women, especially with her kind of background, to have children, she had to marry thrice and she eventually went into depression. That was the immediate contact I had with someone who suffered from poor menstrual hygiene. Of course, I went to medical college: I saw that the cases there were even worse. There were women who started menstruating quite late. They started menstruating when they were 18 but they were already married at that time. So, they had no one to talk to and they were very scared. There were so many cases of pelvic inflammatory diseases, cervical cancer. I realised that we talk about such rare diseases, of such high-end diseases, but if we can improve on basic hygiene and basic health needs of people, then automatically this will prevent other diseases.

Manushi winning the blue crown in November 2017.

Q. Do you think the problem lies primarily with the rural areas, or is the urban population equally unaware of the importance of menstrual hygiene?

A. Women suffer from it all over. Of course, the causes are going to be different. In urban areas, it is more about the taboos and myths that surround menstruation. And in rural areas, we have to deal with a lack of education and access.

Q. Does the affordability factor, when it comes to sanitary napkins, also play a part in compounding the problem of menstrual hygiene?

A. Definitely. That’s because at many places only generic pads are available and people have to go for commercial pads that they might not be able to afford. So, affordability is a problem in many places.

Q. You are a beauty queen, a philanthropist and a medical student. So what were the influences you had in your early days that made you pursue, and accomplish, such disparate dreams?

A. My first and most constant influence has been that of my parents. And because we have been so close to each other, I got to learn a lot from them. I once asked a question to my dad. It was, “If you could change one thing in the world, what would that be?” It was for an assignment from school and I came up with the most boring question for him. But I thought it was a tricky one. So my father answered, “I don’t want anyone to sleep hungry.” And I was like, “Wow! You are so nice. You want to do some good for society.” And he said, “That is a very selfish request, because if everyone sleeps with a full stomach, I will sleep peacefully thinking that the world is a good place… If I am able to do good for others, it will make me feel happy and it is a selfish desire.” So, these kinds of interactions that I was able to have with my parents kind of created the whole concept in my mind as to how important it is to have a purpose in life and a vision for the future, and to contribute your own bit. I have always wanted to do that and this is why I took up the menstrual hygiene project. And this is not the only project that I have done. I have associated myself with a lot of social work through my parents, through my college and school as well. And now through Miss World, aside from this project, we will be doing some other work as well.

Q. At your press conference in Delhi you had mentioned that Miss World is a big platform and has the power to touch many lives. Do you think Bollywood as a medium can further help you in your social endeavours?

A. Bollywood will make a huge difference. It is because India produces the maximum number of movies as compared to any other industry and people in our country love entertainment, they love the industry, and they love the celebrities. We all love them. And when they come and say something to the public, I think it travels faster than even education in a lot of ways. I know for a fact that kids who don’t go to school, definitely watch TV and look up to actors. So, Bollywood as a platform can influence a lot of lives.

(Front row, L-R): Stephanie Del Valle, Miss World 2016; Manushi Chhillar; Julia Morley, CEO of Miss World and founder of “Beauty With A Purpose” project; and Solange Johnson Sinclair, Miss World Caribbean, along with other beauty queens at the Delhi event.

Q. So can we expect you in movies anytime soon?

A. You have really motivated me now! So yes, definitely. I have so many opportunities and I think it will be really interesting to be able to play another role and live another life for a period of time.

Q. Do you have any message for those who look up to you?

A. Yes, absolutely.  All I would like to say is that you should always have a purpose in life. Once you want to do something, automatically you will have a vision. Fate is going to create a path for you. Just have the intention of doing something—it is not that difficult.

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