NEW DELHI: Scores of men dressed in khaki uniforms are seen patrolling inside Jamia Millia Islamia University’s Campus. A small crowd of students can be seen negotiating with the security personnel at the entrance to let them inside. But all efforts fail and they are directed to clear the gates. The security has been beefed up in view of the Turkish President’s arrival at Jamia Millia Islamia.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who is on a two day visit to India, will be conferred with an honorary doctorate by Jamia Millia Islamia. The university’s decision has caused quite a stir among the students. Several students have opposed Jamia’s move citing ‘ongoing human rights violations in Turkey’. Turkey has been accused by human rights organisations of launching a crackdown on activists, journalists and academicians post the failed military coup last year.

Shuddhabrata Sengupta, an alumnus of Jamia Millia Islamia has started an online petition in which an appeal has been made to reverse the decision of the university to felicitate the Turkish President with a degree of Doctor of Letters. The ‘’ petition has been addressed to the Vice Chancellor of the university and has been endorsed by 450 people including students, faculty and alumni of Jamia.

Sengupta believes that the decision severely damages Jamia’s credibility as a secular institution. "It comes as a terrible surprise and shock to learn that Jamia Millia Islamia, the university where I learned how to think critically, is now honouring a politician like him [Erdogan]. The Jamia that I was in had stalwarts like Prof. Anwar Jamal Kidwai, and Prof. Habib-ur-Rahman Kidwai, who were proud of the university’s traditions of openness and liberality. Today, Jamia administration’s actions reflect a tragic transformation, shorn of the dignity that it once had as a proud and independent institution."

Meanwhile, Jamia’s administration dismisses any opposition, calling it ‘fringe’.

“We don’t take cognizance of all these things. If somebody has a problem they are free to express it. It’s a democracy. But he is a state guest and it is an honour that he has agreed to visit Jamia,” said Saima Saeed, deputy media coordinator, Jamia. She added that the visit will increase exchanges between Jamia and universities in Turkey.

Abdul Matin, a student of Turkish language and literature at Jamia agrees that Erdogan’s visit will boost the educational engagements from both the sides. “The Turkish administration has been offering many scholarships to students in Jamia and also universities across India. Turkish President’s visit to Jamia will definitely result in more scholarships and exchange programmes.” He alleged that those opposing the university’s decision are sympathizers of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of instigating the military coup in Turkey last year.

But some students maintain that the university’s decision is in contradiction with Jamia’s liberal ethos. “Whenever a university felicitates a leader, it means the university subscribes to the individual’s ideals. How can then Jamia honour Erdogan at an institutional level, when there is enough evidence of his involvement in human rights violation with the Kurdish minority population in Turkey. When you can criticise the Prime Minister of India then how are you honouring the Turkish President?” said Vishank Singh, a journalism student at Jamia.

Though no formal protest or demonstration has been organised fearing action by the university authorities, several students have expressed discontent at an individual level by wearing badges condemning Erdogan’s visit. Students have also taken to social media to express their unhappiness about the event.