External Affairs

Jamia Millia’s Felicitation of Erdogan Evokes Mixed Response on Campus

Though there was no formal protest, several students have opposed Jamia’s move citing “ongoing human rights violations in Turkey”.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives at a convocation at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, India, May 1, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

New Delhi: Scores of men dressed in khakhi uniforms were seen patrolling Jamia Millia’s campus. A small crowd of students was negotiating with the security personnel at the entrance to let them inside, but their efforts failed and they were directed to clear the gates. The security had been beefed up because of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s arrival at the university.

Erdogan, who is on a two-day visit to India, has been 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 a failed military coup last year.

Shuddhabrata Sengupta, an alumnus of Jamia Millia Islamia, started an online petition to appeal to the university to reverse its decision to award Erdogan with a Doctor of Letters degree. The Change.org petition has been addressed to the vice chancellor of the university and has been endorsed by 450 people including students, faculty and alumni.

Sengupta believes that the decision severely damages Jamia’s credibility as a secular institution. He said, “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. The Jamia that I was in had stalwarts like Professor Anwar Jamal Kidwai, and Professor 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.”

A student of Jamia Millia protesting the award of an honorary degree to Turkish president Recep Erdogan. Credit: V. Padmaja

Meanwhile, Jamia’s administration said that the university has always had a special relationship with Turkey and dismisses any opposition by labelling it the “fringe”. “We don’t take cognisance 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 of the university. 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 educational engagements from both the sides. “Turkish administration has been offering many scholarships to students in Jamia and also universities across India. The 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 sympathisers aligned with Islamic preacher Fetullah Gulen, who is accused of instigating last year’s military coup.

But some students feel that the university’s decision is in contradiction with Jamia’s liberal ethos, given Erdogan’s questionable human rights record. “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 was organised as people feared action by the university authorities, several students expressed discontent at an individual level by dressing in black attire and wearing badges condemning Erdogan’s visit. Students have also taken to social media to express their unhappiness about the event.