Although the Paraiyan community serves various important functions in Tamil village society, their name is associated with the lowest of the low in village life – the stray dog. I have personally heard the phrase ‘para naieh’ or ‘lowly stray dog’ used in my childhood. Edgar Thurston lists some Tamil proverbs that refer to Paraiyans —
(1) If a Paraiyan boils rice, will it not reach God? meaning God will notice all piety, even that of a lowly Paraiyan.
(2) When a Paraiya woman eats betel, her ten fingers will be daubed with lime, meaning the Paraiya woman is a slut.
(3) Though a Paraiya woman’s child be put to school, it will still say Ayyē, where Ayyē is vulgar for Aiyar or Sir.
(4) The palmyra palm has no shadow: the Paraiyan has no regard for seemliness, meaning the Paraiya has ne decorum.
(5) The gourd flower and the Paraiyan’s song have no savour, sadly the Paraiyans use this saying themsleves.
(6) Though seventy years of age, a Paraiyan will only do what he is compelled, perhaps infantilizing the Paraiyan.
(7) You may believe a Paraiyan, even in ten ways; you cannot believe a Brāhman, using the Parayian as the low mark.
(8) Is the sepoy who massacred a thousand horse now living in disgrace with the dogs of the parachēri? the Paraiyan settlement as a place of shame.
(9) Paraiyan’s talk is half-talk., perhaps a reference to Paraiya uncouthness.
(10) Like Paraiya and Brāhman, meaning a vast chasm of difference.
(11) Not even a Paraiyan will plough on a full moon day, perhaps a reference to the unclean or unholy aspect of the Paraiyan.
(12) Parachēri manure gives a better yield than any other manure, referring to the lowliness and the exploitation of the Paraiyan.
(13) The drum is beaten at weddings, and also at funerals, meaning a double-dealing unreliable character.
(14) The harvest of the Paraiya never comes home, meaning wastefulness or perhaps irresponsibility?
Before the Malaysian Indian community reacts to the pejorative connotations of the word Keling in Malay language and idiomatic expressions, we should look at our own prejudices and racism towards our own Tamil brothers and sisters.