Thuggee

A word like many other words that have been adopted into the English language from India like the words ‘bangle’ and ‘bungalow’. Although today the spelling is quite different and is more recognised to the eye as ‘thug’, to mean a violent person/criminal. The definition however has not changed much since the nineteenth century. The term ‘thugee’ is defined as the robbery and murder practiced by a group in India in accordance to their rituals of worship. Another way that people might know about the Thuggee is they have been referenced in popular media, most notably in the Indiana Jones Franchise. In the second movie Jones and company arrive in India and stumble upon Thuggee practices taking place at an underground palace, in spite of them being told by a palace operative and a British officer that the Thuggee practice had been quashed previously. The film although questionable in how they portrayed them (child labour taking place {no evidence to support this}, hearts being ripped out {again no evidence to support this}). However it did show that the cult was nonetheless violent.

The earliest documentation of the Thuggee was said to have been in the fourteenth century and they were said to have derived from seven Muslim tribes in spite of them claiming to be formed from the sweat of Kali (a Hindu God of worship). What is interesting to note is the practice is hereditary being that the life of a thug was passed on from father to son in most cases. However this is not the only way to become a thug. Other ways of membership included; in some cases to take the children (if any) of their victims, train to become one with a guru or to hope that if you got to know a thug well you may be recruited as one yourself (similar to how a fraternity would work). In spite of all these ways of becoming a thug it is unclear if women undertook the activities of a thug.

The victims of the Thuggee were usually travellers as they appeared to be easy victims for their activities. Traditionally they would usually appear to help people on their travels in the areas that they occupied as a way to gain their trust. After the Thugs gained the trust of travellers they would strike at a time when their victims would at least suspect it by strangling them with either a noose or handkerchief around the neck. Usually after this act they would rob the victims of any valuables and dispose of the body. These killings usually took place in remote spots away from prying eyes near river banks for instance and at times of the day when they were less likely to come into contact with anyone, usually at night.

As of yet it is not known exactly what the death toll was from the thuggee practice. However some estimates have been made into how many killings took place during the nineteenth century when the cult was still active. The British historian Mike Dash states that approximately 2 000 000 people were killed, yet some disagree with this amount saying it was too high. David Rapoport states that 500 000 people were killed, implying that even in recent history it is extremely difficult to state accurately how many deaths took place.

During the British Raj the Thuggee became notorious and as a result the British set out to suppress and eventually eradicate the practice of the Thuggee from the 1830s. It became clear from very early on that the British soon found an effective way to overcome the techniques of the Thuggee. In spite of general policing being in its infancy in Britain, they adopted very clever ways of warning travellers coming to India of the dangers, regarding the Thuggee at border points. This proved to be a success as more and more travellers became aware of the dangers and prepared themselves accordingly by productive counter measures. Secondly an official department was set up to help quash the threat of the Thuggee. This proved to be very useful as it enabled people to know about where the locations of the attacks happened, likely targets and what time of the day they would attack. Soon the Thuggee realised they had met their match and found that they could no longer keep up with the constant surveillance of the movements. Eventually the Thuggee way of life became extinct by the 1870s.

 

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