Indian-American small-town girl takes on bullying, inequality as Miss India Worldwide

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Miss India Worldide 2018 Shree Saini, center, 1st Runner Up Sakshi Sinha from Australia, 2nd Runner UP Anusha Sareen of the United Kingdom, pose after the Miss India Worldwide pageant held in Fords, New Jersey, Dec. 14. (Photos: Hemant Pandya)

Shree Saini, 22, Miss India Worldwide 2018, has so much to do, and so many people to inspire with her passionate dedication to causes as wide-ranging as bullying, sex trafficking and inequality, that she has no time to dwell on the upcoming surgery to replace her pacemaker. That, she told Desi Talk, is not what defines her even though it was needed when she was just 12 years old. At the pageant, held Dec. 14, in Fords, New Jersey, she won the crown from among  entrants from 17 countries.

The girl who came from Punjab to this country at the tender age of 5, and was brought up in small towns of Colville and Moses Lake in Washington State, is going globe-trotting soon, and will also be traveling around the United States to speak to the young and the old, at events hosted by the American Heart Association, and schools that have invited her to share her experiences fighting bullying, becoming emotionally strong, and working on projects to overcome poverty.

Saini spoke to Desi Talk while waiting in New York with her mother Ekta Saini, for the plane which would take her back home to Washington,

At 14, Saini took to ballet dancing, and her eponymous website shows the talent that she said got her accepted to the prestigious New York City Joffrey Ballet, an offer she did not take up. Instead, she took a gap year, and spent time in India, traveling to Kolkata, Punjab and other places, and studying in various higher education institutions after.

Since childhood the question that plagued her was – why are so many people so poor?. “And I still have that question plaguing me. I want to make a radical difference, and my dream is to be able to do that through this pageant and my experiences,” Saini told Desi Talk.

Saini has done several semesters of study in Ivy League institutions, she said, including at University of Washington, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.

Early Start

Saini began her non-profit work at the age of 15, raising awareness and funds to fight human trafficking and end bullying,

“I always wanted to lead a life based of service. I want to use this platform (Miss India Worldwide 2018) to make a difference because it allows me to partner with non-profits and advocate for causes I believe in,” she said, adding, “My personal struggles and experiences will help others who may face similar physical and other problems – how to handle themselves and not let their condition define them.”

Shree Saini at Yale School of Drama (Photo: Shreesaini.org)

An inspirational speaker over the last several years, Saini says, “I truly believe that in order to overcome any physical or emotional issue one has to become emotionally strong. Bullying happens everywhere, in schools and workplaces. What helped me personally was my parents filling me with love and self confidence, and self-help books on how to be mentally stronger.”

She reads other stuff as well and enjoys movies, but always “those that help you change as a person.” One of her favorite Bollywood movies is “Taare Zameen Par”, a 2007 release produced and directed by Aamir Khan, about the life and imagination of 8-year old Ishaan. One of the Hollywood movie she loves is “The Blind Side” based on a true story, where actress Sandra Bullock plays a suburban white mother who takes in a homeless African American student.

She’s not a big foodie, she hastens to respond when asked about her favorite dish. “But I do like Punjabi food like paneer and dahi. However, I try to eat healthy every two hours,” Saini said. She sees a cardiologist every three months, and has to get her pacemaker batteries replaced every ten years through surgery.

Inspired and Inspiring Mother

Her mother’s steely resolve shows what goes into making Shree such an extraordinary young woman.

“When she was diagnosed at 12, for me it was like – no this cannot happen to us!” Ekta Saini told Desi Talk. “But clearly the machines were telling us what it was. It was a difficult time.”

Her next words would bring tears to anyone’s eyes. “But I’m thankful that God gave my child a treatable disease and not an incurable disease because He knows how much I can handle,  and I cannot handle that,” Ekta Saini said.

In fact, her daughter is an inspiration to her, the mother said. “And even if she didn’t win the pageant, it would not matter. She has such a pure heart and a pure spirit, and I am glad the judges recognized that,” Ekta Saini said.

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest,” says Shree Saini on her website.

Other Winners

From left, Mrs India Worldwide 2nd Runner Up Kavita Malhotra Pattani from the U.S., Jeya Priya Pandian of Malaysia was 1st Runner Up, and Mrs India Worldwide winner Mandeep Kaur Sandhu from India; Miss India Worldwide 2018 winner Shree Saini of the U.S., Sakshi Sinha from Australia !st Runner Up, and Anusha Sareen of the U.K. 2nd Runner Up. The pageant was held Dec. 14, in Fords, N.J. (Photo: Hemant Pandya)

While Saini won the crown, other winners in the Miss India Wordwide category included Sakshi Sinha from Australia — 1st Runner Up, and Anusha Sareen of the United Kingdom — 2nd Runner Up.

The pageant also included Mrs. India Worldwide 2018 contestants. Mandeep Kaur Sandhu from India walked away with that crown. Jeya Priya Pandian of Malaysia won 1st Runner Up and Kavita Malhotra Pattani from the United States was the 2nd Runner Up in this category.

The competition is organized by New York-based India Festival Committee led by chairman and founder Dharmatma and Neelam Saran. This was the 27th Miss India Worldwide pageant and the 3rd Mrs. India Worldwide, dedicated to people of Indian origin in the diaspora.

“We are very proud of the fact that we have been able to provide a common platform for the international Indian community through pageantry, Dharmatma Saran says on the website worldwidepageants.com. “We are equally proud of the fact that we have been able to imbibe Indian values, traditions and culture among the youth of Indian origin around the world,” he says, adding, “Quite apart from being functions of great social and cultural value, our pageants fulfill the underlying purpose of raising funds for charitable causes.”

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