Maitreyi Ramakrishnan garnered huge appreciation for essaying the character Devi Vishwakumar, a first-generation Indian-American teen in Mindy Kaling’s popular show ‘Never Have I Ever’. Maitreyi has now been roped in as Plan International Canada’s newest Global Celebrated Ambassador to spread the message around girls’ rights and gender equality. Excerpts from an exclusive interaction with CNN News18’s Divya Pal.
You are 18, and absolutely unwavering in making a big change with your association with Plan International Canada. Clearly, age has nothing to do when it comes to implementing ideas that can bring about a change. In your case, this change revolves around making people aware about girls’ rights and gender equality…
Yes, that’s really important for me because I’m a girl. The issue I have taken up is something I have always been passionate about. The disparity between girls and boys have always bothered me. Girls deserve to have basic human rights just like anybody else especially when it comes to education. I owe a lot of my success to all the amazing teachers I had in school. They helped me to reach where I’m today. With this association, my effort would be to make people aware that everyone has access to education and that knowledge is power.
Don’t you think this is just the right time for the campaign - which revolves around women’s online harassment - to be launched because we are in digital space more than ever due to the Coronavirus pandemic?
Exactly! Our lives have shifted to the digital world. We are on Instagram, Facebook and interacting via Zoom. So clearly everything is digital. But when girls put themselves out there creatively they are expected to be harassed. This is dumb. It’s absolutely wrong to normalise online harassment of girls.
Have you or anybody you know ever faced online harassment?
There is a huge difference between critique and harassment. There is a difference between comments like ‘I don’t like Devi much’ and then people saying something about me or attacking me or my family and friends. The latter is harassment. That isn’t fine. I know a lot of my friends have found themselves in similar situations. They have been sent inappropriate messages or blatant comments that are disgusting. People don’t have guts to say this on someone’s face. Hence, online medium is used.
Agreed, a lot of people really loved the show and identified with the character of Devi. However, there was a section of viewers who didn’t. We can’t expect everybody to like my character. Devi can’t be relatable to everybody especially the south Asian community which comprises people from different countries. So yes, there was a section that said ‘I’m not like Devi’, ‘Devi is an improper representation’ because they couldn’t identify with the character. But I don’t blame them because I see this as a critique. To them, I say ‘I will try to get more roles and those roles will be starkly different from Devi’. Harassment is when people attack me as a person.
Did such intense reactions make you feel really vulnerable?
Honestly, in the beginning it did hit me. I’d be lying if I said such intense reactions didn’t bother me. I had prepared really hard for the new world I entered because of the show ‘Never Have I Ever’. But I couldn’t prepare myself for hatred and harassment that came along with the show. It does take time. It is easier said than done. These comments hurt me so much that I didn’t want to open my social media accounts.
What can be done to ensure such instances are stopped and not encouraged?
It’s important for people to check themselves first and understand if they are contributing to the environment wherein online harassment is normalised. After that if they spot something wrong, they should say something and report it immediately. For creators, they should continue with what they are doing. Such comments shouldn’t tear them down and take them away from their creative space.