Thugs of Hindustan: finding the legacy of a lost tribe.
Thugs of Hindustan originated from word “thug” a Urdu word that slowly came to be associated with thieves and anti-social elements. The word is also believed to be derived from word: sthagati which means to hide or conceal.
A group of skulls were examined by British researcher Turner and were stated to be of “Thuggee Clan”. These gangs were professional bandits who doubled as assassins.
Thugges were worshippers of goddess Kali. Some labelled them as born anti-social elements with the allegations of death and destruction. They were labelled as born criminals and the profession was hereditary in nature.
The thuggee was supposedly “discovered” by the British in 1830. When a huge fight for their rights was taken by the thugges, the British governors: William bentinck along with William sleeman.
Subsequently, a search was taken up the British government and 4000 of these were identified and more than half were convicted. This fight for eliminating the tribe continued till none were left.
The mystery of empire:
British government fighted tooth and nail with any civilization that aimed to fight them. As described in the below video:
The British used unfair strategies to use the hospitality of the native tribes of India, Australia as well as America to their advantage. These mere thugs of Hindustan were one such tribe that sacrificed themselves to the Raj.
From giving malaria infected blankets to passing of orders through British parliament to eliminate any tribe of India that seemed to rebel against the spirit of the British Empire. Further, these acts were inhumane as well as unethical. But who would question the white men? For in the empire of the queen, sun never sets!
This brings us to question: Was the British government truly a revolution for India?
On a personal level, I believe the British government worked for the interest of the education. Though India already had a well established Gurukul system and hereditary skill based learning. Yet the intervention of the government and a few good samaritans was definitely useful in breaking the traditional regime. I won’t be wrong if I stated that we have took quite a few ideas of the empire into our benefit. But does this wash away the sins of the empire? NO!
On other hand, British government truly destroyed indian way of life. From a well defined social culture, we went downhill to a place where everyone fighted to become like “Saheb”.
Thugs and the Raj:
Thugs or Thuggees were a fraternity of Hindu or Muslim tribes that supposedly looted the strangers and then offered them as sacrifice to Mother Kali.
Unsuspecting travellers were joined by one member of the gang and led to secluded place. These thugs are attributed as stranglers who pounced upon the prey on the highways. Further, the deed was done by not one but the whole group. Later the dead victims were buried and never found. This was clearly a criminal disposition. However, the thugs were superstitious individuals. Their sacrifice was always to please their principal diety: Kali or Mariatta.
British historian, Kim Wagner chronicles the exploits of the tribe, their kinship as well as mutual customs. These thugs or Thuggees form a large part of the initial literature of the empire. With such a huge literature on the subject, it was pretty obvious that the tribe gained notoriety. This was the cause of their subsequent fall.
Considering themselves as moral and ethical police, British Empire considered them as a blemish on their otherwise clean empire.
Interestingly enough, Thuggee Clan was not fully devoted to the loot. However, this was a seasonal source of income! After the harvest season, the thugs remained on prowl!
Issues started when the sepoys of the empire found themselves caught on by them. This was followed by attacks on the suppliers of the empire. According to a lore, all the acts were patronised by a Rajah and later the Thuggees returned to pay huge favour for the act of the Rajah. The payout in the end was above average. However, majority of the profit was earned by the high rulers.
Chronicles of thugs:
In early 19 century, the constitutional law no VI went harsh against these organised group of thugs. Similarly, Their patrons were threatened with dire consequences. Kim Wagner account gives a huge amount of information regarding the manner of elimination. However, it was later believed that the moment gave rise to the dacoits of the Chambal valley.
The guiness book of records raises the number of victims of the thuggee movement above two million!
- The methodology: It is overwhelming that the thuggee movement was on rise for some period of 18-19 century. The act was always carried out by night. Each member had their own specific task and responsibilities. United by their act and jargon, the thuggee clan was a true follower of rules. Ritualistic attempts were must before killing. Interestingly, Brahmins, women, sick and aged were never targeted due to their respective points.
- The elimination: Thuggee or thugs were eliminated gradually after passing of the act of British government. Apart from the above, incentive program along with dissemination methods were used.
Despite all the negative feedback surrounding the thugs, these are in reality a true fighters whose story went wrong due to wrong portrayal. Though their work is not commendable but their story surely is pitiful.
Share your thoughts on these thugs of Hindustan and if they are heroes or villians?
Fart magazine chronicles these history majors.