Social media users who once lavished unsolicited admiration on Kerala IPS officer Merin Joseph have now made her the target of their ire after a photograph showing a junior officer holding an umbrella for her went viral.
For the third time in her career Merin finds herself the object of attention on social media and in public. In at least two of these times including the present, her being a woman may have something to do with the nature of attention.
On September 18 Malayalam newspaper Kerala Kaumudi had published a photograph of Merin showing a junior officer holding an umbrella for her while on duty in the rain. Since then, the photograph has spread on social media, with people asking why a junior officer should be made to do such things for their superiors.
The Kerala media have been criticizing the officer for being “arrogant” and “immodest”. There are also rumours that Merin will be transferred from Thiruvananthapuram soon on account of the attention the incident has attracted.
Working culture within the police, regardless of which state it is, is largely based on absolute terror of the superior officer. The News Minute had reported that senior IPS officers across the country are actually allowed orderlies, and each state has separate rules.
Whether or not this official was an orderly is unclear, but even otherwise, senior officials make their subordinates run all kinds of personal errands. This is an extension of the relationship of power and subservience that the police share with the political establishment and ruling government in any state. This relationship is one of the reasons for the demand of police reforms.
The current round of social media attention comes just after two months after a hue and cry was made over her requesting Ernakulam MLA Hibi Eden to take a photograph of herself with actor Nivin Pauly. Merin was then posted in Ernakulam Rural.
That she subsequently uploaded it to her Facebook account was portrayed as a crime. A Malayalam news channel ran a story on how Merin asked Hibi Eden to click the picture and their camera zoomed into Merin's phone as she was uploading the picture on Facebook.
Then too, her conduct was under scrutiny with people pointing fingers at her ‘breach of protocol’. The attention this received reportedly prompted higher officers to seek an explanation from her.
Around this time, she was transferred to Thiruvananthapuram which the media speculated had been ordered because of the photograph. The Home department, however, said that she had been transferred for training in dealing with political clashes on the streets.
The first instance of sexism in the media was when Merin was posted as Assistant Superintendent of Police of Ernakulam Rural in December 2014. Media reports commented on her looks, her softness of her hands. Social media users pitched in when a photograph of hers in uniform went viral.