And Miss India is... again a girl from a military family

With tiaras on their heads and tears in their eyes, beauty queens like to thank their father, mother, sometimes God, and others for their win.

Many winners and runners-up of the Miss India competition have something else to be thankful for - their military upbringing.

Take this year's Miss India, 20-year-old Navneet Kaur Dhillon: the daughter of an army officer, she attended the Army Public School, a public school system for children of armed forces personnel with more than 130 schools nationwide.

Similarly, first runner-up Sobhita Dhulipala, also 20, is the daughter of a marine engineer in the Indian Navy.

They are the latest in a long line of Indian beauty queens from military families.

In 1994, then 19-year-old Sushmita Sen became the first beauty queen from India to be crowned Miss Universe. The daughter of a former Indian Air Force Wing commander went on to become a Bollywood actress.

The father of last year's Miss India Vanya Mishra was an army major, while Miss India 2011 Kanishtha Dhankar is the daughter of a navy commodore.

"Girls from a military family background are exposed to a lot more travelling. They have a disciplined lifestyle, they have a sense of duty and are always on time. They are also extremely competitive. All this coupled with beauty and confidence. And they speak well," says Mr Marc Robinson, creative director of the Miss India pageant. "When they come to us, we just polish them and we have winners."

Ms Rukhsana Eisa, a grooming and etiquette expert who trains Miss India aspirants, says she can spot a girl from a military background in a room full of models.

"The reason that young women from an army, navy, or air force background have an edge is that they already have good etiquette and manners. Their parents have these qualities which are imbibed by their children," she explains. "With these young women, it's not about starting from scratch."

The top 23 contestants for the Miss India contest undergo three months of training, during which they are taught how to walk, talk and conduct themselves, before the grand final.

Military families who move from town to town, live in self-contained military areas and mix at social gatherings and parties raise children with a difference.

"Making new friends and going to new schools gave us confidence," Ms Ankita Shorey, first runner-up in the 2011 pageant, told the Times of India.

"I remember how we would swim, play tennis every evening at the army compound. People mingle with one another at the various sports activities, beauty contests and balls. A defence hub has a particular culture, which becomes an integral part of our personality."

Though beauty contests have generally become less popular in India, thanks to the emergence of TV reality shows and song and dance competitions, many young women still see the Miss India pageant as a springboard to a modelling or acting career.

Mr Robinson says about 10,000 women apply to enter the pageant each year.

After Venezuela, India has the highest number of Miss World winners.

In 1994, when Ms Sen took the Miss Universe crown, Ms Aishwarya Rai became Miss World. India scored that double again in 2000, when Ms Priyanka Chopra and Ms Lara Dutta were crowned Miss World and Miss Universe respectively. Both were from a military background.

Ms Sushmita Sen, Ms Aishwarya Rai and Ms Priyanka Chopra have all become Bollywood stars and household names.

No wonder that this year's first runner-up, Ms Dhulipala, too, is considering a future in acting or modelling.

"I haven't decided on a career path, but I'm open to doing movies or walking the ramp," she says.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.