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By Blessen Tom, RNZ IndoNZ journalist

A 27-year-old former police officer is off to represent New Zealand at the Miss World beauty contest in India next month.

Navjot Kaur, who spent two years on the beat in South Auckland, won the title in a rapid-fire selection process in Auckland last weekend.

Next week, Kaur will join about 90 women vying for the 2024 Miss World title during a range of events in Delhi and Mumbai.

“I’m very overwhelmed and thankful for the opportunity,” Kaur said.

Kaur’s sister, Isha, also competed for a place in the New Zealand competition.

“It was not a competition between us,” Kaur said. “We both had the same mindset that whoever wins between us will have the same morals and values that we learned from our mum.”

As a member of the Sikh community, Kaur believes her representation helps to showcase New Zealand’s diversity to the world.

Migrated to NZ
Kaur’s family migrated to New Zealand in the early 1990s before her birth.

Eventually raised by a solo mother, Kaur aspires to make a positive impact on society and views the Miss World competition as a platform on which to do so.

Meet New Zealand’s new Miss World contestant.    Video: RNZ

“Growing up in a state house in Manurewa, I witnessed many young people struggling and I wanted to change that,” she said. “That’s why I joined the police.”

Kaur graduated from Police College in 2019 and left the force two years later.

“What we witnessed on the frontlines was different from what we learned at Police College,” Kaur said.

“There’s family harm, there’s child abuse and when I got onto the frontlines it emotionally drained me because I used to be very connected to the victims,” she said. “I left (the force) after my last suicide (case), which was very intense.”

Following her departure from the police force, she pursued personal training and recently acquired her real estate licence.

‘I wanted to help people’
“I really wanted to help people get into the best shape, look and feel confident again, making a difference in people’s lives,” she says.

The Miss World contest began in 1951 when entrepreneur Eric Morley devised a pageant to promote a new and controversial type of swimming attire called the bikini.

This caused an uproar, particularly in religious countries, which called the swimming costume immodest.

That controversy set the tone for the pageant, which along with other global beauty contests (Miss Universe, Miss International, Miss Earth) has been a target of protesters ever since.

Kaur said the Miss World competition went beyond superficial beauty, focusing on community engagement and philanthropy.

“There’s always giving back to the community, a charity aspect and there’s always something to do with helping people,” Kaur said.

In 2014, Morley ditched the contest’s swimsuit parade, saying it “doesn’t do anything for the woman and it doesn’t do anything for any of us”.

Demonstrate skills, fundraising
Contestants are now expected to demonstrate skills and a commitment to fundraising and charity work.

“They’re not doing the swim rounds at Miss World, so it doesn’t objectify women,” Kaur said.

She said the Miss World platform aligned beauty with purpose, enabling participants to raise awareness and serve their communities.

The Miss World Organisation has raised more than £1 billion ($2.06 billion) for children’s charities since its launch.

Despite being a New Zealand citizen, Kaur is also an overseas citizen of India, adding an intriguing dynamic to her participation in this year’s contest.

“I’ve learned the best of both worlds,” she said.

“I can perform traditional poi, the karanga, which I did during my time in the police, and, of course, I can do the Bhangra, a traditional Punjabi folk dance.”

Navjot Kaur’s sister, Isha, also competed for a place in the New Zealand competition.
Navjot Kaur’s sister, Isha, also competed for a place in the New Zealand competition. Image: RNZ

Kiwis on the world stage
New Zealand’s most famous and successful beauty queen is Lorraine Downes, who won Miss Universe in 1983. A New Zealander has yet to win Miss World, although two have come second.

Suzanne Manning, national president of the National Council of Women, said beauty pageants were “no big issue”.

“It’s not our biggest battle,” she said. “There are so many other things that are far more discriminatory.”

If someone chose to enter a beauty pageant because they believed it was the right thing for them to do, Manning said they should not be criticised.

“Women shouldn’t be judged for freely made choices,” Manning said.

“What I would like to see is that beauty pageants are open to everyone and different ways of being beautiful, rather than a particular body type, race or colour,” she said.

Kaur wants to use the Miss World platform to educate and inspire women in her community.

“There are norms in my Punjabi community, where women are seen in a certain way, like they can’t do this and they can’t do that,” Kaur said.

“When I became a police officer, I was questioned by my own community. So, I think this platform will allow me to inspire others and tell them, ‘If I can do it, you can do it too’,” she said. “Just dare to dream big.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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