As we congratulate Mohanaapriya Sina Raja on being an icon that many young girls look up to, she replies, bewildered, “Am I?”

Mohanaapriya won the Miss MalaysiaIndian Global pageant in 2001, and she has gone on to establish her own non governmental organisation, Miss MalaysiaIndian Care Association (MMICA). She is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global. This year, the pageant celebrates their twentieth anniversary.

The former beauty queen speaks to Varnam about how the Miss MalaysiaIndian Global is not a beauty pageant, but personal development program.

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The empowerment programs offered by Miss MalaysiaIndian Global built her, along with many other Indian women

Miss MalaysiaIndian Global terms itself a personal development pageant, because of all the empowerment programs it puts the contestants through. Mohanaapriya, fondly known as Mohanaa, admits that she is a byproduct of these courses.

She credits the pageant for bringing the best out of her, “It is because of the empowerment programs that I went through, that I am where I am today,” She also attributes much of her personal growth in adulthood to the founder and spirit of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global, Mrs Pushparani, who goes by Mrs Rani.

“She told me, if you get an audition, go for it! Are you crazy to miss it?” Mohanaa says that Mrs Rani always saw what she could do, and her position in life now is a result of the latter’s constant encouragement.

Mohanaa is currently a news presenter on RTM2, but she sometimes cannot believe that she has made it this far in the industry, “Being on television was very far fetched. I literally had a dream that I was watching the news on RTM, and Harjeet Singh was presenting. It’s crazy to think that now, I’m presenting the news with him!”

The top 3 of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global 2001 formed the first female led Malaysian Indian youth NGO, Miss Malaysia India Care Association.

“Three of us finalists from 2001 founded the MMICare Association. At the time, this was the first Indian youth female led NGO. But we were anything but figureheads! We always went down to the ground and got our hands dirty,” Mohanaa tells us that MMICare Association now organizes the Miss MalaysiaIndian Global pageant every year, with the help of their volunteers.

“One of our first projects was to get underprivileged mothers from our community to go for mammograms, this went on for 5 years, before the government declared that all mammograms will be free for the B40,”

“As women in our early twenties at the time, we didn’t realize how impactful our work was. Now, people know about us by word of mouth. Girls join the pageant because they want the growth and personal empowerment, and that’s pretty special,”

Girls join the pageant because they want the growth and personal empowerment.

Every year, the former contestants pitch in to organize the next pageant

The finalists of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global 2018

“From the original team of the year 2000, Mrs Rani and Mrs Sandhya are the only ones who are still working on the pageant. I have been part of the organizing committee from 2003. Past contestants often volunteer to help organize the pageant. This year, all the women involved in the organizing were contestants at one point or the other.” she tells us.

“Even former queens get involved. Some come in to give talks based on what she does as her vocation, or her passion, a cause that she supports,”

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The contestants are put through a string of self empowerment workshops

The contestants receiving a talk about the Law of Attraction

This year, the contestants’ journey began with the mandatory Persona Empowerment Program. The topics covered were general well being & self image, emotional well being, feminine health and reproductive health.

After that, the contestants spent some time with the children of the Kapar C3 Upliftment Center for at-risk kids. This center is operated by MMICare Association, and they run a lunch and tuition program for the kids. “This isn’t a shelter, it is a center for the kids to receive guidance. These kids have a high chance of dropping out if not guided properly,” Mohanaa says that this is their fourth year working with the center, and the contestants were exposed to the programs being run there.

The contestants were then whittled down to the quarter-finalists after a closed talent round.

Contestants during last year’s Community & Environment Awareness Program

The semifinals, however, are a little more interesting. Mohanaa tells us, “The Community & Environment Awareness Camp is the semifinal round. This year, it will be a 3 day camp run by Universiti Sains Malaysia’s school of biological sciences. A team of marine biologists will enlighten the contestants on environmental awareness. At the end of this, the contestants will have to write an essay. This is their semifinal round, and the finalists of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global 2019 will be determined based on a cummulative scores on essay, fitness and talent,” Mohanaa shares.

The finalists will then undergo two weekends of stage training and workshops before the grand finale on the 22nd of September in Petaling Jaya.

There is no height/weight/skin colour requirement

The top 5 of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global 2018

Body positivity, self love and self acceptance may be trending on social media now, but Miss MalaysiaIndian Global began inculcating these values into their contestants two decades ago.

“There are no height and weight requirements for this pageant. In addition to that, we don’t take in any kind of sponsorship that promotes skin lightening or weight loss. I mean, if we are going to be talking about self esteem and wanting the girls to feel good in their body, we cannot have people sponsoring products that go against all of these. During our nutrition module, we caution the girls against slimming pills and whitening cream,”

we don’t take in any kind of sponsorship that promotes skin lightening or weight loss

“Let’s face it, the Indian face was never a commercial look, until very recently. Model Vanizha is now making waves with her beautiful South Indian features. I remember when the first Miss MalaysiaIndian Global, Jayalakshmi Appadorai made the cover of Her World Malaysia magazine in 2001, it was the first time a classically beautiful South Indian woman graced the cover of an English magazine!” Mohanaa reminisces.

Model Vanizha was invited to give a talk during one of the Personal Empowerment Program modules

“I cannot stress enough how vital it is for our girls to see other Indian akkas being celebrated,” Mohanaa believes that representation is key. “Young girls need to have beauty redefined, and understand that there isn’t one ‘look’ or one ‘colour’ that is beautiful. We want to drive home the message that every body is beautiful,”

The most important thing is getting each of the 15 girls to a place where she is the best version of herself. So most of them don’t care about the prize, they come in for the empowerment. And honestly, it doesn’t matter who wins – we tell the girls this as well, if you happen to win, you just have a lot of community work to do for the next year!”

The most important thing is getting each of the 15 girls to a place where she is the best version of herself.

The top 5 have to conceptualize and run a community project

Miss MalaysiaIndian Global 2016, Sumitra Roopini, organized a first aid and CPR workshop for schoolchildren. She is pictured here while being interviewed.

As contestants, the girls are introduced to community work. The top 5 finalists have to  conceptualize and run a community project. “It can be a project in any field, from a sports clinic to animal welfare, there is no limitation on that. We have had so many different types of projects that our finalists have carried out!”

The top 5 are required to come up with a proposal for a community service project that includes a strategy for funding, and they need to see it through from start to finish. “This itself is a form of empowerment. It isn’t easy to run a community service program, and many break down, just like I did!”

miss malaysiaindian global isn’t about mingling with an elite group of beautiful people. It’s about getting your hands dirty to help the community.

“MMIG isn’t about mingling with an elite group of beautiful people. It’s about getting your hands dirty to help the community. Even if the project doesn’t turn out the way you envisioned it, it is still an experience. it benefits the community, and the contestant has grown as well. That is the queen that we are looking for,” Mohanaa reveals.

The do not have an operating budget for the pageant

The finalists of Miss MalaysiaIndia Global 2017

“It really is a bit of magic, how we pull off the pageant every year,” Mohanaa gushes. “We are a NGO, hence we do not have an operating budget set aside for the pageant. Mrs Rani, however, does her own fundraising, and we have several regular donors,”

It really is a bit of magic, how we pull off the pageant every year.

“There is a really tight leash on expenditure and we can’t afford to advertise. The funds we raise through the pageant will be channeled to the community service projects that are held that year,”

Many of the pageant’s partners are not Indian

Philip of Hair Quay Salon in Petaling Jaya has been regularly partnering with Miss Malaysia India Global for the past 10 years.

“One unique thing about the Miss Malaysia India Global is that although it benefits Indian women, many of our partners are not of Indian origin,” Mohana says that all their partners ultimately understand the cause and want to help empower these women.

“We have some wonderful people who have been with us for more than a decade. Phillip of Hair Quay in SS2 brings a team in every year and he does the hair for the girls backstage before the finale. Another long term partner of ours is the designer Bill Keith. Often, there are no payments involved, and these people being the best in their trade!”

It is sometimes difficult to get sponsors on board

Mrs Rani briefing the volunteers of the Miss Malaysia India Global 2018 pageant.

“Let’s face it, within the community the commercial money is with the men. And it is very difficult to convince some of them to come on board as sponsors, even though this is so much more than a beauty pageant,” Mohanaa admits.

Sometimes, the challenge feels like an impossible uphill task. “At one point, we find ourselves thinking, should we do this again next year, or should we stop? But these thoughts are rubbished the very next moment when someone shares how the pageant has impacted them, or one of the kids that we are supporting does well. It really is something else,”

The organizers often help out the contestants themselves

The organizers of the pageant since 2003,. From left: Mohanaapriyaa, Mrs Sandhya and Mrs Rani

Mrs Rani has been instrumental in empowering the girls in more than one way, says Mohanaa. “Most of the girls who join the pageant are already in tertiary education, but we have had cases of girls who only have their SPM qualifications. In cases like these, Mrs Rani will speak to the girl to check if she is keen on studying. If she is, Mrs Rani will hook her up with a partial or full scholarship to pursue a higher education,”

“Most of the time, these girls are unable to further their studies due to financial constraints as they need to be the breadwinner of the family,” Mohanaa says. “Mrs Rani is something else, whether the girl makes it to the finals or not, she will find her a way to move forward in life,”

In spite of their community-centric work, there are people who choose to be nasty

Community service is close to Mohanaa’s heart. She is currently pursuing her PhD, and is at the tail end of her thesis completion. “My thesis is about volunteerism, I think it’s something that is lacking among young people.”

When asked about the beauty pageant cynics, Mohanaa says, “We do get our fair share of brickbats, people who pass nasty comments about our queens to their faces. I’m hoping we have empowered our finalists enough to not let these people affect them. We want our contestants to focus on her personal growth and help as many people as she can, there is nothing that’s more beautiful!”

We want our contestants to focus on her personal growth and help as many people as she can, there is nothing that’s more beautiful!

“It is impossible to change an entire community that is used to a certain set of social norms, especially when it comes to appearances. But you can change one person at a time, and that is what MMIG hopes to achieve with their programs,”

The contestants of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global 2019 with model Vanizha

As a parting remark, Mohanaa says, “It’s not about empowering 14 girls, and that’s it, end of story. We want to empower these girls to be able to look outwards, and see how they can contribute to the community.”

This pageant goes much deeper than external beauty, and it’s about time Miss MalaysiaIndian Global team received the due recognition for empowering so many young Malaysian Indian women, while touching thousands of hearts with their community service.

The finals of Miss MalaysiaIndian Global 2019 will be held on the 22nd of September. To sponsor or attend the event, please email [email protected]m. Until then, keep up with the pageant updates on Instagram here. 

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