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Where is the glorious past?

Contributed by Anonymous on Sunday, February 20 @ 07:51:48 CST

Social
NST, 19/02/2011

I REFER to the article, "Who are Paraiyars, really?" by Universiti Sains Malaysia vice chancellor Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak in Learning Curve (Feb 6). The word "paraiah" itself is derogatory to a certain section of the Indian community.

It is offensive and meant to belittle a fellow human being by treating him or her as an untouchable.
The word had gained access to the English language and is used to mean a social outcast.


Reader's Digest Word Power Dictionary has given the following meaning to the word "paraiah":

- A person rejected by society; social outcast
An example of the use of the word in a sentence is as follows: Because of his extreme political beliefs, he was treated as a paraiah.

Previously, divorced people became social paraiahs.

The writer has gone in-depth into the historical background and glorified the once illustrious livelihood of the said community during the Mauryan Buddhist Empire and has categorically concluded that to remove or substitute the word is to ignore the wisdom, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!"
There are certain misconceptions in the learned vice chancellor's article.

It was mentioned that when the Sangam era ended the situation in Tamil Nadu was still casteless. This is not true. The caste situation was such that Sangam poetess Awaiyar had lamented that there were only two castes, the just and the unjust!

Sage poet Thiruvalluvar too had emphasised that there is no high and low birth in his kural written about 2,500 years ago!

It is evident that the caste system was despised even during the Sangam period. No literary work has ever approved the caste system.

Dzulkifli has painted a rosy picture of the Interlok issue.

And to my dismay, he has been totally ignorant about the untold sufferings paraiahs underwent at the hands of the high caste during the pre-independence era in India.

But let us have a glimpse of how this awkward situation arose in the Indian community.

It is also interesting to note that this abhorrence is not only limited to India, but is also prevalent in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka over the past 2,500 years.

The caste system has been equated with Hinduism and declared to be a unique phenomenon inseparable from it.

Before the influx of Aryan into the sub-continent by way of Khyber Pass in north-west Pakistan, there was no caste among the Dravidians who lived in peaceful harmony during the Indus Valley civilisation around 5,500 years ago.

The Aryans brought with them the Rigveda, the oldest collection of Vedic priestly hymns, composed in Punjab in about 1200 to 1000 BC. They settled in the upper Ganges region and built a more complex society containing towns and the beginning of states. It was then that their sacred Vedic texts culminated in the classical moral code book (Dharma-sastra) of the Manu school (200BC to AD 200).

The later Vedic society was taught to believe that it shared one original natural substance, conceived as the body of Purusa, the original code man.

The four castes were born from Purusa, namely Brahmana from his mouth, Ksatriya from the arms, Vaisya from the thighs and Sudra from the feet.

The Sudras are supposed to be the untouchables and they were discriminated at all levels in society.

They were kept in colonies (cheri) away from the main village. They were not to use a common source of drinking water. They were not to dress like the others. No footwear was allowed. Women should not wear blouses.

The Sudras were not to be educated. They were only meant to do menial jobs such as scavengers, barbers, dhobis, cobblers and coolies. They were prohibited from entering temples.

They should not come in the way of a high caste on the road.

They are not allowed to enter food stalls. These are only a few restrictions and the list could go on without end.

So, where is the glorious past of this "cursed lot" as mentioned in the article?

It is crystal clear that the entire concept of the caste system is a well planned conspiracy of the Aryans to subdue the Dravidians into slavery in the name of the Vedas and religion.

It is also noteworthy to mention that the Ramayana, the great epic of Rama and an Aryan masterpiece, has degraded the Dravidians of South India by depicting them as a race of monkeys!

Buddha was born a Hindu prince. But he renounced religion and God as he was disgusted with the caste system.

Dr B.R. Ambedkar, leader of a party of the lowest castes, was the first Law Minister of Independent India. He was the author of the Indian constitution in 1950. It abolishes caste "untouchability" and forbids any other restriction on public facilities arising from caste membership. He advised his followers to give up Hinduism in favour of Islam or Buddhism.

Mahatma Gandhi, the architect of India's independence, hoped to abolish the category of the lowest sub-Sudra castes by naming them Harijans meaning "offspring of God".

In South India, it was Periyar EVR, the Dravidian reformist who fought tooth and nail to put an end to the caste system.

It is clear that though the emergence of caste has its roots in Hinduism, it has been opposed in the land of its origin.

Why should it prevail in Malaysia? It is totally irrelevant and should be curbed once and for all.

Once upon a time, there was the horrid practice of sathi, also propounded by the Brahmins. The widow of a deceased ends her life by jumping into the funeral pyre of her husband. But the British rulers of India put an end to it in spite of opposition from the Brahmins.

Similarly, the caste system should be dealt with severely in Malaysia and caste organisations should be banned.

No one should be called Paraiyars and the word "Pariah" should be eliminated from Interlok and the minds of the future generation. -- Dr G. Johnson*******
Caste system: Blame history for the 'divisions'
2011/02/10
ARIFF SHAH, R.K.Penang
letters@nst.com

I REFER to the article "Who are the 'Paraiyars', really?" by Universiti Sains Malaysia vice-chancellor Professor Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak (NST, Feb 6). He shed new light on the "Paraiyars", after making references to a book by Abbe Dubois. It was a good attempt to explain the issue but, as a history lover, I found the article slightly misleading.

All those who had argued about this subject, whether Indians or non-Indians, have not explained it clearly enough for the nation to understand this issue of "Paraiyars". Many are not clear about the caste system where the word "pariah" is said to originate.
One would be surprised to know that the caste system does not exist in Hinduism. In Hinduism, there is a system known as the "varnashrama", which divides society into four natural groups -- Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra -- depending on individual characteristics and disposition.
Every human has certain tendencies by natural inclination and choice. These are divided into four divisions known as "varna" (colour). It does not relate to skin colour but to a person's aura or consciousness.

After reading a student's aura and his tendencies, the master would decide which job would suit him most, where it would allow the student to serve society in a harmonious way and not frustrate him.
A student is placed in the varnashrama of either the Brahmana also known as Brahmins (intellectuals, academics, priests), or Kshatriya (rulers, administrators, soldiers) or Vaishya (businessmen, farmers, bankers, those engaged in commerce) or Shudra (ordinary workers, those engaged in physical labour, dancers, singers).

It was never a condition that birth determines a student's division. This was a system of self-discovery and development in assisting a person to find his place in society, where he could contribute to it by doing a job in accordance to his nature.

This system is sanctioned by a book that no one commenting on the issue had referred to, namely the Bhagavad Gita, where Sri Krishna talks to the warrior Arjuna at the battlefield of Kurusethra.
It states: "According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me" (4.13).

"By following his qualities of work, every man can become perfect... By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all pervading, man can, in the performance of his own duty or occupation, attain perfection" (18.45-6).

Clearly, no one is forced into the work he dislikes. Neither is birth a criterion for determining the division he would enter for work purposes. The underlining principle in Hinduism is that work is worship and one is allowed to change the division one is in.

For example, if a soldier has had enough of battles and wants to become a priest, he will leave his Kshatriya division and enter the Brahmin division. It's as simple and flexible as that. This system allowed everyone to work according to his nature and bring happiness to himself and society. It was never meant to divide society according to materialistic divisions. The sole object was to unite people in a cooperative society in the service of God. Every individual in the divisions had equal rights.

From the above verses, there is no mention of "pariah". So what happened then?

As time went on, the varnashrama system was abused by the Brahmins, who made it a condition that those born of a parent who worked in a particular division would remain there. Switching from one division to another was not permitted. In that way, the Brahmins gained control over power and money.

This new condition was against the teachings of Hinduism. Some Brahmins and Kshatriyas opposed these new conditions. However, by this time, India was invaded.

These invaders not only massacred people, but burnt down great libraries that contained most of the information regarding the varnashrama.

A new materialistic caste system was born. When the British arrived in India, they saw the system as an opportunity to divide society further to suit their interest and twisted it with a view of converting the Hindus.

The British then created another theory -- the Aryan theory -- which stated that European nomads came by chariots and conquered India and later composed the Vedas.

Dzulkifli touched on the origin of the word Brahmin, but it was misleading. First, the Brahmins are not followers of Brahma. They, and all other Hindus, pray to the one supreme God known to them as "Brahman". Brahma and Brahman are different entities.

Second, he said the Aryan Brahmins carried out "conversion" and those who refused to convert were "cast out". This is misleading.

Scientifically speaking, there are no Aryan or Paraiyar races. The three primary races are Caucasians, Mongoloid and Negroid.

Both the so-called "Aryan Brahmin" and "Paraiyars" are related branches of the Caucasian race, which is in the same Mediterranean sub-branch. Biologically, they are of the Caucasian race.

"Aryan", or its correct term "arya", was discovered in the Vedas of the Hindus. The term "arya" means noble or spiritual and it never meant a race of people. Those who followed the noble Vedic way of life or arya dharma may be termed as arya. It is a term of respect, something similar to a "datuk".

During the 19th century, many Europeans believed that they belonged to a superior race and their religion was the best. With the racial theory of man in vogue, they thought that the fair-skinned Indians were different from the dark-skinned Indians.

At that period, similarities were discovered in Sanskrit and the European languages. Therefore, they thought that since Sanskrit was related to their languages, it must have come from a white race and not the darker-skinned Indians (compared with the Europeans).

It was a linguistic theory adopted by the British to hold power. They began interpreting the Vedas in the same racial manner. The forces of light against darkness were interpreted as white race against dark race.

Hence, their theory of an Aryan race from Europe that invaded India and gave them the Vedas. Terms were mistranslated to suit the British objective, which was to convert Hindus and to justify their rule.

Many archaeologists and researchers forwarded theories of the location of this Aryan homeland but it kept changing. An exact time period when the so-called Aryans came to India was never established.

This was also because, to the Europeans, the world was created at 9am on Oct 23, 4004 B.C. The great flood of Noah occurred in 2500B.C. So the philologist Max Muller and the rest gave the Aryan invasion date at 1500 B.C. In short, everything was mere speculation which, unfortunately, became part of Indian history.

New archaeological and scientific studies indicate that the Indus civilisation that preceded the Aryans, was Vedic and centred, not on the Indus, but on the banks of the Saraswati river and its language was Sanskrit.

The Rig Veda praises the Saraswati river in its hymns. The river dried up around 1900 B.C., which means Hinduism and those who composed the Rig Veda were there before 1900 B.C. and if the Aryans arrived in India about 1500 B.C., how did they know about this river and build their culture on its banks if the river did not exist any more?

The latest studies also indicate that the Indus sites were wiped out not by war or invasion but by a drought. The skeletons unearthed there showed no signs of injuries caused by war but by starvation or dehydration. This was the drought that wiped out civilisations in Sumeria and Mesopotamia.

Similarly, in Mohenjo-Daro, there was an absence of any signs of war, like extensive burning or weapons or any remains of armour-clad soldiers. Interestingly, evidence of temples and seals of Shiva and Vishnu exist which mean that the Vedic religion had been part of these people and not brought by any Aryan Brahmins.

In short, scholars are rejecting the invasion theory based on this emerging evidence.

Coming back to the "Paraiyars", they were indeed once land owners who lost their land, advisers to the kings, farmers, musicians, singers and members of the manual workforce who were suppressed by the British in the light of their divide-and-rule policy.

They were exploited by the British and later, "Paraiyars" was mispronounced as "paria" just like Singapura became Singapore, Pulau Pinang became Penang, Mumbai became Bombay and orang utan became rang a teng.

The term "pariah" signifies colonial oppression of farmers, musicians, singers and the manual workforce.
******
Who are ‘Paraiyars’, really?
2011/02/06
Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

WHILE in India recently, I bought a translation of Moeurs, institutions et cérémonies des peuples de l’Inde (Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies: The Classic First-Hand Account of India in the Early Nineteenth Century) by Abbé Dubois. What interested me was the proximity of the year the book was first published — 1905 — to the period that is narrated by National Laureate Datuk Abdullah Hussain in his book Interlok. The index pages showed an entry of the word “pariah”, which in Malaysia has been reduced to a mere letter for some reason.
The book throws new light on the subject.
Some highlights are reproduced below based on several reference sources (not limited to Dubois), including those by Indian scholars intended as exploratory reading. The word “pariah” refers to members of the Paraiyar or Pariah caste. “Paraiyar” in Tamil means “a drummer (parai = drum)”, although the origin of the word is still debatable.
It was not found in Tamil lexicon as late as the 11th century CE.
Contrary to stereotypical beliefs, for about 10 centuries, the Paraiyar “enjoyed a privileged position in the society of the Sangam period” from 3BCE to 3CE, the earliest period in the history of south India. There is no mention of “Paraiyar” in Sangam literature except on one occasion in a song prior to this. When the Sangam era ended, the situation in Tamil Nadu was still largely casteless.
Evidently, the Paraiyar had a long past, and “one in which they had independence, and possibly of great importance in the peninsula” of India. Certain privileges, it was suggested, could never have been gained from Orthodox Hinduism. Therefore, it is not surprising that some of them are on record employed as “advisers to kings”, while some were “priests to Pallava kings before the introduction of the Brahmans”, and even for a short while after it.
Generally the privileges, purportedly, were relics of an exceedingly long association with the land, and the turning point came when they lost their land. The farmers among them became poor and were treated as bonded labourers. Genetics studies were even cited showing association between the Paraiyars and the Brahmins (generally, followers of Brahma), which apparently could be traced to their “conversions” by Aryan Brahmins.
Those who refused to do so were “casted out”. Aryans already have tiered societal system supposedly similar to that of the Greeks. In the very early days, the separation between Paraiyars and the others “do not appear to be so marked at as present”. But it worsened from the 13th century CE. Labelled the so-called “untouchables”, they faced even more deprivation.
By the late 1800s, there were almost 350 different classes that made up the group.
Before their conversions, it was argued that Paraiyars were Buddhists, and they maintained many pre-Hindu beliefs that are unique to themselves.
Other pieces of evidence indicated that they were the original inhabitants of Tamil Nadu as part of the Mauryan Buddhist Empire for about 300 years. Following the collapse of the Mauryan Empire, Brahmanism emerged and became dominant. Despite this, Paraiyars at certain places reportedly still worshipped an 11th century statue of the Buddha, while at least one of their saints (allegedly Elango) was said to be a Buddhist.
In addition, five great Tamil literary epics also reflected several Buddhist principles. As to how the Buddhist elements were lost, one reason cited was the revival of the Agamic cult, which existed mainly in south India then, and for most part preceded Buddhism. Interestingly, “the Agamas are out and out monotheistic”, noted Professor Arunachalam of Tamil University at Tanjavur, and over time Paraiyars were known to convert to other monotheistic faiths. This brief exposé is to demonstrate the possible “missing links” in seeking meaningful understanding of the real “pariah”.
To superficially remove or substitute words is to ignore the wisdom: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!”
We need to dwell deep into the etymology and origin of the word so as to broaden the intellectual framework of the discussion.
A clear distinction between the word’s relevance to the Indian Malaysian community and the nurturing of “Indian Malaysians” must be made so as to expedite the realisation of 1Malaysia concept.
And being Paraiyars is about being Malaysians first, with no particular relevance to the historical excesses of India. Interlok would then be given a new lease of life!
The writer is vice-chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia



 
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