“People like us don’t even dream, and you’re thinking of Miss India crown?” Manya Singh recalls the reaction of her parents who were “gobsmacked” when she shared her desire to win the title with them. But Singh said she wanted to be a voice of women belonging to lower social strata and believed Miss India would give her the platform to achieve her goal.
Born in Mumbai to an auto-rickshaw driver and raised in the small town of Hata in Uttar Pradesh, the 19-year-old was crowned VLCC Femina Miss India 2020 runner-up in a ceremony last week. “I realized that there’s this platform called Miss India where I can voice my stand and beliefs. Be the voice of those women who are told they don’t have the right to speak, who are confined.
“Especially in villages, where they don’t even have the freedom to choose what they wear, what to study. I realized long back I have to make it to Miss India, so all my hardships, all my steps were towards just this,” Singh told PTI.
Post her win, Singh said her parents are “extremely proud and overjoyed”, but her journey to the pageantry was riddled with obstacles. Singh said coming from a lower middle-class family of four, they were struggling to make ends meet. Her parents somehow managed to continue her schooling on an “admission basis” and were only able to afford exam fees.
“Life has not been easy for me but I’ve been harder on my life. At 14, I saw girls around me enjoying their life, wearing good clothes, attending school. I was aware my life isn’t like theirs because I didn’t have the same privilege.”
Singh, who has a younger brother, said while growing up she was also made aware of the gender discrimination in the society by people who would feel sorry for her parents for not having a boy as their first child.
“It would pain me a lot. I decided to let my parents feel that their daughter is more capable than anyone else.I was quite determined to rise above. A bright student, Singh decided to go against the tide and follow her Miss India dreams rather than aiming for a “simple life, working as either an engineer or a doctor.” However, her career plan stunned her parents as for them thinking beyond daily needs seemed like a privilege.
“My parents were gobsmacked and felt I had gone crazy. People like us don’t even dream, and you’re thinking of Miss India crown?’ they said. My father would always tell me, there are more heels in my bag than books. Somewhere they were scared because I didn’t even have a Plan B.” At 14, Singh ran away from her home, taking a train from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai’s Kurla station and moved to the suburban Kandivali area here.
She didn’t have enough money, so to manage fee for college she reached out to a pizza outlet asking for a job and eventually got one. “I would mop the floor, do the dishes, and sleep in the store room. On the job, I observed how people carried themselves, how they’d dress up, and talk to each other. It was a massive learning for me for the entire year that I worked there.” Singh went on to join a call centre and worked in several companies throughout her graduation from Thakur College of Science and Commerce, Mumbai.
“There I polished my language, worked on my diction and voice. I started work to support my education but even that led to shaping up my personality, preparing myself for Miss India. After several failed attempts to enter the beauty pageant, Singh finally made it last year. She said her journey was filled with “constant phases of insecurity”.
“I would calm myself down, remind that I’ve seen a lot of struggle, so this too shall pass. I somehow had this incredible faith that I will go far and wide. There were people who came like angels in my life, especially during the pageant journey and helped me at every step,” she added.
At this year’s pageant, Manasa Varanasi, an engineer from Telangana, emerged as the winner, VLCC Femina Miss India World 2020, while Haryana’s Manika Sheokand was crowned VLCC Femina Miss Grand India 2020