Linor Abargil : The voice for voiceless

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It was the year 1998, I was watching Miss World with my family and was rooting for India. Then India didn’t make it to the top 10, we were sad, but the show has to go on irrespective of the result. Somehow our disappointment was covered up by the inclusion of Israel and Malaysia. Particularly Israel, because of my Jews lineage. Miss Israel, Linor Abargil was so fresh and angelic in her royal white ball gown. Loved her presence on stage.

Miss Israel, Linor Abargil, smiles as she poses for photographers after winning the title of Miss World held in the Seychelle Islands November 26. Miss France Veronique Caloc (R) was first runner up and Miss Malaysia Pick Lim Lina Tech (L)  was second runner up.

Miss Israel, Linor Abargil, smiles as she poses for photographers after winning the title of Miss World held in the Seychelles Islands November 26. Miss France Veronique Caloc (R) was first runner up and Miss Malaysia Pick Lim Lina Tech (L) was second runner up.

I am writing this article with pride, respect and admiration for Linor Abargil. She is a true example of beauty with a purpose. I really respect her for the woman she is. Her courage, grit and fearlessness attitude is what sets her apart from the rest and I truly admire her for that. Watching her on Miss World finale on TV was a delight. She had lots of energy and positivity. I love her cheerful smile and youthful energy. She light up the stage when she walked and she shined like an angel. Her white gown complimented her personality. Then she deservingly won the Miss World title. . I exclaimed with joy. It was nice to see her hugging and talking to others while she accepted her crown. She was spunky and lively. Seeing her emotions and tears, it was telling something else. But I didn’t read much into her emotions because I was so happy for her. Who knew her tears were telling something else?

The next day on the newspaper, it was written that a rape survivor was crowned Miss World. The newspaper mentioned about her bravery but didn’t write about the details. During those times, Internet was hardly available. I could only read about her as a victim of rape. It’s only much later I could follow up with her story. Reading about her story made me outraged and started questioning the society we live in. But it was heartening to also know how she fought back and put her perpetrator in jail. My admiration for her only grew stronger and a beauty queen like her made me believe more in Beauty with a Purpose.

The tears that says different thing.

The tears that say a different thing.

About the tears and sobbing when she was crowned Miss World, it was not tears of happiness. They were filled with shock, trauma and confusion. She said, “When I stood on stage with the crown on my head, I think it was the first time that I realised what happened to me three months ago – and that I needed to go home immediately. I couldn’t stay there for another minute. Going from the extreme of almost dying to being on that huge stage, with millions of people watching was, was too much.”  At the time she was crowned Miss World, the police investigation was on-going.

Just seven weeks before being crowned Miss World, the then 18-year-old Abargil was raped at knifepoint by her travel agent, Uri Shlomo Nur, in Milan, Italy. She reported the rape to Italian authorities, who initially released him due to lack of evidence. She later reported the rape to Israeli authorities, who issued an arrest warrant for Shlomo and began extradition proceedings. Nur was eventually tricked into returning to Israel. He was tried for rape and was convicted, with DNA evidence found in his car serving as the basis for his conviction. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

I really don’t know how she did it. From where did she get that courage from? It must have been hard for her to be a beauty queen and to remain calm and composed all the time.  She had responsibilities to represent her country too. It could have completely broken her down. But she is a fighter, so for Abargil, speaking out came naturally. In one of her interview with The Telegraph UK, she said, “I wasn’t like the other girls. I never blamed myself or thought it happened because of me. I never kept it inside. At the time what I did felt normal. But now I realise that it wasn’t. Because most victims don’t speak, ever. I’m quite unique in that way. I speak, I shout, I’m not afraid.”  It is this attitude which help her to overcome her trauma. At the Miss World night, she might be trembling inside but it was never visible outside. In fact, she looked amazing that night. She was radiating like the sunshine from a clear sky. She mentioned that it was  her mother who helped her during her ordeal.

Former Miss World Linor Abargil of Israel looks on during a function to celebrate International Women's Day in New Delhi on March 10, 2014.   Just six weeks prior to her participation in the Miss World contest 1998, Abargil was abducted, stabbed, and raped in Milan when she was 18 years old. Despite the excruciating trauma, she went on to win the Miss World contest in 1998.  AFP PHOTO /SAJJAD HUSSAIN        (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Miss World Linor Abargil of Israel looks on during a function to celebrate International Women’s Day in New Delhi on March 10, 2014. 

It can’t be denied that despite talking about her ordeal in front of a camera  and yet maintaining a calm composure, it must have been difficult for her to relive her past so as to help other women. So later to overcome her trauma, she studied drama and sought rehabilitation through introspection and therapy.

Her story doesn’t end here, Ten years after she was crowned Miss World, she resolved to confront her past, use her own ordeals and reach out to other victims of rape. She teamed up with Cecilia Peck, the daughter of Gregory Peck and started a documentary “Brave Miss World” made over the course of five years. Through this documentary, it encourages women around the world to speak out. The documentary also includes stories from rape survivors across the world.  The makers of “Brave Miss World” have a website by the same name www.bravemissworld.com  where it urges women to share their stories and help each other. Sometimes sharing stories is a way to let go, accept and embrace yourself and telling the world they are not alone.

About the unfortunate incident,“I wanted to die, basically. I didn’t even care really. But God had different plans. I guess this crown was for me to do what I’m doing today. I’m travelling around the world and meeting amazing groups of men and women. As all Miss Worlds say, I wanted to save the world. Well, I took it seriously. Speak up about rape”, said Linor. Today she is a lawyer and has become a global advocate against sexual violence. She is travelling across the world to spread about the epidemics of rape and help victims using her own experience as an example. This way she can tell people they are not alone. It does affect everyone and helped them to overcome their ordeals.

I have always admired women who are strong and fight for their own rights even if it means to face an uphill task. They say it is not easy being a woman. That’s where I like them. Whether they have to prove or not to somebody their worth, they make life seems so easy for themselves and for others without complaining. Linor is one such woman. She is a role model for women across the world and a role model for beauty queens to lead by example, use wisely the platform they have been given with and be able to show the world beauty queens can speak up, fight for the unfortunate and can make people smile with their kindness and humility. She will remain one of my favourite beauty queens ever.

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