1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pariah

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PARIAH, a name long adopted in European usage for the “outcastes” of India. Strictly speaking the Paraiyans are the agricultural labourer caste of the Tamil country in Madras, and are by no means the lowest of the low. The majority are ploughmen, formerly adscripti glebae, but some of them are weavers, and no less than 350 subdivisions have been distinguished. The name can be traced back to inscriptions of the 11th century, and the “Pariah poet,” Tiruvalluvar, author of the famous Tamil poem, the Kurral, probably lived at about that time. The accepted derivation of the word is from the Tamil parai, the large drum of which the Paraiyans are the hereditary beaters at festivals, &c. In 1901 the total number of Paraiyans in all India was 2¼ millions, almost confined to the south of Madras. In the Telugu country their place is taken by the Malas, in the Kanarese country by the Holeyas and in the Deccan by the Mahars. Some of their privileges and duties seem to show that they represent the original owners of the land, subjected by a conquering race. The Pariahs supplied a notable proportion of Clive's sepoys, and are still enlisted in the Madras sappers and miners. They have always acted as domestic servants to Europeans. That they are not deficient in intelligence is proved by the high position which some of them, when converted to Christianity, have occupied in the professions. In modern official usage the “outcastes” generally are termed Panchamas in Madras, and special efforts are made for their education.

See Caldwell, Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages (pp. 540-554), and the Madras Census Reports for 1891 and 1901.