The University of Iowa

Sanskrit professor Smith joins in Gandhi Square protest

August 17th, 2011

Fred Smith from the University of Iowa has lived in India for 16 years. He has seen ‘all kinds of corruption’ and is now doing all he can to end the social stigma

Prof Fred Smith (middle), along with other protesters, at Gandhi Square in Mysore

An unusual face, in an unusual setting. One that immediately stood out from the crowd. But Fred Smith considers himself more Indian that most. A professor of Sanskrit from the University of Iowa, USA, Smith was part of a 200-strong crowd which had gathered at Gandhi Square, Mysore, to protest social activist Anna Hazare’s arrest in Delhi. The dharna was led by Dr R Balasubramaniam, founder of the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM).

“I’ve lived in India for nearly 16 years now and I have seen all kinds of corruption,” Smith told Bangalore Mirror. “When Dr Balasubramaniam told me about this crusade against corruption, I wanted to be a part of it.”

The 61-year-old professor has lived in several towns and cities and has worked in various organisations across the country to learn and document the roots of Sanskrit and Sri Vaishnavism.

Recalling instances of having to pay bribes, Fred said, “I was living in UP and studying Sanskrit many years ago when one day, a Foreign Registration Officer came to me. I was lying on the grass in the premises belonging to a Brahmin pundit when he came to me. He asked me if I knew who he was. I recognised him and asked him how much he wanted. By this time I already knew that I could get by anywhere in India by greasing some palms. He asked me for Rs 350. In a friendly conversation, I told him that he was only mildly corrupt while compared to many other politicians. His instant reaction was that he could outdo any politician and that no state can compete in corruption with UP,” he said.

Fred believes corruption stems from fear and he has tried to stop corruption at every opportunity.

“We are corrupt because we fear that someone will outdo us or get ahead of us. This is the root of corruption and to stop it we must stop being afraid. Initially when I came to India, I had to pay a few hundred rupees to get my driving licence. I feared that I may not get it if I did not pay the bribe. Now I don’t pay a bribe as I know the system well enough,” he said.

Smith is now translating Sanskrit books to English and was on a similar mission when he came to Mysore last week. “The dharna at Gandhi Square was a coincidence and I am glad that I took part in it. There are a lot of places where similar protests should take place,” he said.

Remembering another instance, he said, “Some years ago, I had to go to the passport office to get some documents. When I gave my passport, the officer shook the passport to see if there was any money in it. This is a common scene at the passport office. I have never paid a single rupee to the goons at these offices.”

Speaking from experience, he said, “My point is, everyone should follow the Karma Yoga philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita. That way, no one will be corrupt. Whatever you do, do with a sincere heart and it will return to you the same way.”

Fred Smith is an International Programs faculty member.