Beauty pageants help New Delhi native spread Indian culture

For Suwanee resident Shaveta Jain, the chance to be in a beauty pageant wasn't about showing off clothes, makeup, or poise, or even gaining fame and scholarship money. Instead, the reason the New Delhi native entered the Mrs. India International contest was to promote her cultural heritage.

Jain’s wish came true a few months ago when she was crowned Mrs. India International 2012 during a competition in Atlanta. That award took her to Chicago, where she picked up another title: Mrs. New Delhi-International 2012. Those honors have given her the opportunity to talk to civic and community groups about a culture that she says is being lost to younger children, including her own two daughters.

“When I came to this country 12 years ago, I really liked the freedom and the open culture that opened so many doors for me to go back to school, get a degree and have a dream of being a software engineer come true,” said Jain, 38. “But in my heart, I missed my family and culture. I want to make sure my children have a glimpse of what life in my country is like. I want them to learn to adapt to other cultures and feel comfortable here, while knowing their roots.”

Jain, who works with an Indian theater group in her spare time, heard about the pageant from her theatrical friends and knew it would be an opportunity to share her stories of Indian food, dress, music and more with a broader audience.

“I have often used my stage performances to promote cultural heritage to the younger generation, so I saw the pageant as a good way to do more,” she said.

For the first step, Jain submitted a portfolio of photos and survived a round of intense phone interviews. From there, she was selected as one of 16 contestants from around the world who met in Atlanta for the final event.

“All the participants were from other states, including a few who came from India and one from Australia,” she said.

After winning first place in Atlanta, Jain and her family headed to the four-day Mrs. International contest in Chicago, where events included showing off evening gowns and cocktail dresses. Though she didn’t snag the top honor, she did capture the title of Mrs. New Delhi-International.

“My husband, who has thoroughly supported me from day one, and my daughters loved it,” she said. “Four days after I became Mrs. New Delhi-International, we went to India. The whole family there was so happy for me, they had called the newspapers, and there were reporters waiting for me there.”

The win has given Jain the bigger platform she wanted to share her heritage. And it has also made her a celebrity at her children’s school.

“I was asked to read at my daughter’s class, and she told me I had to wear my crown and sash,” said Jain with a laugh. “I couldn’t believe it. But fortunately, the teacher thought it would be something the children would certainly remember, and they really were very excited. It turned out to be the sweetest thing!”