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
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.
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
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
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
Caste system: Blame history for the 'divisions'
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
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.
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.
invaders not only massacred people, but burnt down great libraries that
contained most of the information regarding the varnashrama.
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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?
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
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?
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
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
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
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