2ndlook

How British Raj Ended Thugee in India

Posted in British Raj, History, India, Media, Propaganda by Anuraag Sanghi on July 5, 2011

 

Thugs in Hindi means trickster – definitely, not a violent, killer-robber. From a trickster to a violent criminal, was British colonial miracle. To hang around 400 ‘thugs’, British prosecutors built a bank of nearly 500 ‘approvers’ to ‘identify’ members of alleged ‘thugee’ groups.

Prison population of Britain (Image source and courtesy - bbc.co.uk). Click for larger image.

Prison population of Britain (Image source and courtesy – bbc.co.uk). Click for larger image.

The truth behind ‘Thugee’

Soon after Pindari Wars (1820), from Indian Independence (1947), till now, for nearly 200 years, one resounding claim of British achievements in India was an end to ‘thugee’.

The British myth of The End of Thugee has survived for nearly 200 years now. Every aspect of the ‘thugee’ myth is unreal.

A cursory examination will reveal how hollow the ‘thugee’ claim is.

The ‘hunters’

Set up by William Bentinck, (British Governor-General; 1827-1835), the Thuggee and Dacoity Department, started with William Sleeman as Superintendent in 1835.

William Sleeman wrote a few books on ‘thugs’, ‘thugee’ and their language. It is Sleeman’s accounts that significantly define the ‘thugee’ chapter of colonial history, even today. From Sleeman’s beginning, the Thugee Story spread.

From the many that ‘agreed with the Thagi and Dacoity officer who noted that thags possessed ‘nobility and chivalrous instincts’, and entire villages ‘coming out to defend an accused Thug against British capture’, in the next 50 years,  Sleeman made ‘thugs’ into a ‘fiend in human form’.

Britain and Europe, was fascinated by ‘thugs’ – a creature of their own imagination and invention. Queen Victoria called for loose, proof-read pages of a book on ‘thugee’. Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days (‘Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours’, 1873) turned Feringhea into “le chef Thugs, le rois des Etrangleurs,” ‘The Chief of Thuggee, King of Stranglers’.

The numbers

William Sleeman’s grandson, James Sleeman added to this ‘thugee’ hysteria and his book Thug, Or A Million Murders in 1920 made out ‘thugee’ into a religion and a cult. Certain Anglophiles claim that ‘thugs were killing 40,000-50,000 people every year – yet only 1000 bodies were recovered in the nearly 20 years of anti-‘thugee’ operations. James Sleeman published his book Thug, Or A Million Murders in 1920.

A supposed gang of 'thugs'. A 19th century image.

A supposed gang of ‘thugs’. A 19th century image.

It has been estimated that some 30-50 gangs were in operation – at the height of the ‘thugee’ menace. Using a bell-shaped, distribution curve, it would mean that 7-8 gangs were killing 20,000-35,000 of these victims every year. That would mean between 10-20 murders each day – every day, every year.

Yet when some of these monsters were apprehended, like Feringhea (called firangee, meaning foreigner), turned out to be all too human. Feringhea surrendered to obtain release for his wife, children and family, detained by the British, as hostages, till Feringhea surrendered. When the British executed his innocent nephew, Jarhu, Feringhea wept.

Final tally – The British captured no more than 3,000 ‘thugs’ – of whom only 400 could be executed. In nearly a decade!

Was that the problem? 3,000 ‘thugs’ in a nation of 25 crores?

Assuming that all the 3,000 accused ‘thugs’, were ‘guilty’, going by modern imprisonment standards, India was a non-crime society country.

Then, as it is now.

Modern parallels

For instance, in modern Britain, there are nearly 17,000 prisoners for violent crime, in a population of little over, 6 crores (60 million). 3 people per thousand in Britain are criminally violent and in prison.

Were ‘thugs’ a bigger proportion of violent criminals in India. Going by modern British ‘norm’ of 3 per thousand, criminally violent Indians should have been close to 75,000 criminals. Just 3,000 ‘thugs’ out of the possible 75,000 criminally violent Indians?

In a population of an estimated 25 crores.

The ‘law’

To control ‘thugee’, a draconian law, Act XXX was passed by the British Raj. To convict the accused, all that the courts of the British Raj needed was identification by any ‘approver’, that the accused was a ‘thug’. Accusation by the British Raj and identification by anyone that the accused belonged to a ‘thugee’ group was enough to get the person hanged. One approver’s name that appears repeatedly, was a man called Bukhtawar who ‘identified’ many ‘thugs’. This legal manoeuvre left some officials cold.

As by Kim Wagnerwho has written on the thugee subject, reports that “the government went as far as removing a judge from his post because he claimed thuggee did not exist and refused to cooperate in the operations against them.”

How many innocents were killed on trumped up charges, I will not estimate!

British imagination and invention is passed off as history today.

British imagination and invention is passed off as history today.

The ‘collaborators’

The Act XXX did not identify any criminal activity. Instead it specified that members of ‘thugee’ groups, were ‘criminals’. The act did specify any ‘activity’ as a crime.

British prosecutors built a bank of nearly 500 ‘approvers’, who would ‘identify’ members of alleged ‘thugee’ groups. One source says the British had recruited 483 approvers exactly.

Even after these legal inventions by Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, from the 3,000 arrests, only some 400 could be executed by the British.

In nearly 20 years.

The ‘people’

One more curious aspect of this entire ‘chapter’ was about religion. ‘Thugs’ were supposedly worshippers of Kali. Yet, many of the ‘alleged’ thugs were Muslims. Muslims worshipping Kali? This worship pattern points towards Pindaris being mis-declared as ‘thugs’.

Some of the most infamous ‘thugs’, like Behram was attributed to have committed more than 900 murders – for which he never faced any trial, for murders he confessed to, even after being captured.

The probable story

Most of these ‘thugs’ were possibly rebel peasants, waging war against the dispossession of the lands – like the Muslim, Santhals, Bhils, Gujjars, etc. A prior story, were the Anglo-Pindari Wars (1815-1820).

Publicity material for a Introduction Lecture by Prof. Dr. Harald Fischer Tiné  titled - "War on Terror" in colonial India: The Thuggee Campaign in the early 19th Century and the demonization of a world religion.  Friday 27 Feburary 2009, 17.15 clock, ETH Zurich, Rämistrasse 101, Main Building, F 30

Publicity material for a Introduction Lecture by Prof. Dr. Harald Fischer Tiné titled – “War on Terror” in colonial India: The Thuggee Campaign in the early 19th Century and the demonization of a world religion. Friday 27 Feburary 2009, 17.15 clock, ETH Zurich, Rämistrasse 101, Main Building, F 30

Many of Pindari leaders, close allies of Maratha chiefs, were mostly Rohillas (for bulk), Pathans (for horses) and general Muslims. Many leaders were Muslims, like Hiru and Barun, sons of Shahbaz Khan. Barun’s son, Muhammad Husein, was allegedly murdered by another Pindari leader’s people. Karim Khan, a wealthy Pindari ruler from MP region, was most famous, whose nephew, Namdar Khan continued to lead a major Pindari faction. Chito, and Wasil and Dost Muhammad are the other names that occur frequently.

Interestingly, annual Pindari conferences of various factions were scheduled for Dusshera, known as Kaali Puja in Bengal, Orissa, etc. These so called ‘thugs’ were probably Pindari stragglers who were led small factions that targetted the British and their Indian allies. And in turn were the focus of British efforts.

The ‘problem’ of ‘thugee’ was recognized and ‘rooted out’ first by Warren Hastings’ administration (1773–85). Subsequent, administrations seized on this ‘creation’ and built an edifice of imagination and invention.

As Maratha power declined in central India, the ‘thugee’ phenomenon reared its head. Similarly, in Punjab also, as the Sikh Empire withered, disbanded soldiers, attacked. More than 552 ‘thugs’ and arrested and some 328 were executed.

The turn in the tale

The mechanics of British propaganda, called modern history, were crafted during the impeachment of Warren Hastings, who did not defend himself, unlike Clive. Instead, Hastings and his team created a narrative of how Hastings and the British Empire were doing ‘Good for India.’

A narrative that survives till today.

Leading By Example?

No analysis examined the effect of British soldiers’ loot of India on Indian soldiers. Is it that Indians soldiers, disbanded and unemployed, emulated British soldiers?

After all, British armies from Plassey (1757), to 1947, were made up of Indian soldiers. However, the loot and wealth from British conquests, went to the British soldiers. Robert Clive for instance. Various thug confessions repeatedly talk of ‘bad omens.’ The idea that ‘bad omens’ can predict Kaal, as the unceasing, unsleeping cycle of Time. And Kaali – who presides over these cycles.

Were Indians soldiers trying to change their ‘bad-times’ by aping British soldiers, who were going through ‘good-times’?

(Book-extract below details how the anti-‘thugee’ campaign was full of holes).

Thugee - Reality and Laws; Extract from Indian traffic: identities in question in colonial and postcolonial India  By Parama Roy; from Pages 56-65. Click to browse the book at books.google.co.in

Thugee – Reality and Laws; Extract from Indian traffic: identities in question in colonial and postcolonial India By Parama Roy; from Pages 56-65. Click to browse the book at books.google.co.in


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14 Responses

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  1. […] The truth behind 'Thugee' Between the Battle of Plassey (1757), and Indian Independence (1947), during nearly 200 years, one resounding claim of British achievements in India was an end to ‘thugee’. The British myth of The End of Thugee has survived for nearly 200 years now. Every aspect … Read More […]

  2. senthil said, on July 6, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    anurag,

    the habit of branding certain people, based on law is the most ugly thing of the west.. can we compare the way indian kings dealt with the same people called thugee, and how the british dealt..

  3. senthil said, on July 6, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    How come when british took control, more than 150 tribes be branded as criminal tribes? Do you have any alternate point of view?

    In my opinion, this kind of branding by law, is same as the inquisition.. unfortunately the same is being done by so called independant india..

  4. admin said, on October 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm

  5. […] of his [Warren Hastings] acts have left stains upon his name which can never be washed away, but he saved to England the […]

  6. Thugee today | Selinahedges said, on September 12, 2012 at 4:37 am

    […] How British Raj Ended Thugee in India « 2ndlookJul 5, 2011 … It is Sleeman’s accounts that significantly define the ‘thugee’ chapter of colonial history, even today. From Sleeman’s beginning, the Thugee … […]

  7. Amit Sinha said, on November 22, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    I think the author of this incredibly stupid piece needs to do some original research instead of spinning idiotic theories. I guess one can sympathize with a nationalist Indian to hate the British and their rule (or misrule) over their country – but to let that hatred morph into speculative ‘feel-good’ rants is unpardonable. Suggest this guy should take the time to read through the tomes of recorded depositions of thousands of Thugs and minutes of their trials that still exist in the archives in India (particularly in Jabalpur and Delhi) and Britain. No doubt that some colonials exaggerated or even romanticized the cult of Thugee for various self serving reasons – but to deny that Thugee never existed is like claiming the earth is flat.

    Lastly, my advice to the author is to improve his English grammar before he pens his next shrill denunciation of the Brits.

    Amit Sinha

    • Mand Buddhi said, on November 23, 2012 at 7:01 am

      @Amit Sinha

      This challenge to blind anti-British attitude in this website is surely needed. Good job.

      tomes of recorded depositions of thousands of Thugs

      I think the post above does mention that there were some 3000 thugs. So nothing new in what you are saying.

      No doubt that some colonials exaggerated or even romanticized the cult of Thugee for various self serving reasons – but to deny that Thugee never existed

      The post does mention exactly how big the problem was. 3000 thugs in nearly 20 years – with 400 executions. In a population of 25 crores. The degree is what you are questioning.

      Was it much bigger than, say, compared to modern Britain?

      It will be nice if you give us some details (links would be nice) which show thugee was a significant law and order problem – compared to say, modern Britain.

      PS – We desis tend to romanticize India – not being exposed to more developed countries. Like you seem to be. Can you give us better data than this blog?

    • Sri said, on November 24, 2012 at 12:25 am

      why are you so hurt? where is the proof for your blabbering? Also, I don’t think we need your expert advice on how to write in a language…. another hurt NRI comes to the rescue of his masters lol

      • Mand Buddhi said, on November 25, 2012 at 1:36 am

        @Sri

        Why do you think Amit Sinha is hurt? Why are NRIs always hurt with India?

        Whatever India does, it does not meet NRI approval.

        • Sridhar said, on November 25, 2012 at 3:53 am

          NRIs and RNIs , both have a huge urge to “show” their masters how they are just like them… reminds me of that monster-like thing in Harry potter , the one who becomes happy when a used sock is thrown at him, that’s exactly the condition most of these superficial people live in and I see no reason to blame any specific culture for that, it is just the mentality of their parents which is passed down to them, I can bet that there is a 60-70% chance that amit’s parent’s have a similar slave mentality as he does, which he will proudly pass down to his son/daughter. Another one is giving unrequired attention to these cowards who ran away whenever the country is in bad condition (it still is in many ways, but still…) and run back whenever there is something good going on. It is the fault of ordinary Indians who respect/consider a person more intelligent because he has travelled around the world or can speak the language of his masters. Stop giving attention to these attention whores and see them getting back to where they belong. This very same trend of NRIs has now created a new branch of RNIs (resident non-Indians) who oppose everything that is remotely related to India/Hindi/Indian culture.Pick up any english newspaper and see for the signs of superficiality. complicated words used or some elitist bullshit crammed into a simple article or disgust/looking down on people who are not clowns like them… read about reports on Baba Ramdev, how he is described as if he isn’t as human as they are or Arvind Kejriwal or Annaji… the whole drama of this elitists bullshit revolves around english and superficiality which is definitely brainwashing the country. Aren’t you surprised that there are so many Anti Diwali articles floating around in the newspapers? Aren’t you surprised or shocked or ashamed to see capital punishment being questioned after the piglet from pukistan was hanged? This is the real face of these pretenders, they are continuing the “white man’s burden” program, basically educating us Injuns on the ways of their masters in our own country. Also, there seems to be an initiation ceremony for this , like any group, they have conditions for these english speaking jokers. a)You should know how to speak the language of masters, b) you should never support Indian culture and always depict it as old, traditional or too superstitious, even when you are just celebrating a damn festival that has been celebrated for centuries. c) never give too much importance to real Indian experts or those who speak fluent Indian languages but aren’t very good in the master’s language. Will continue on this ..

  8. Giant thugee | Shihtzu4you said, on December 13, 2012 at 3:47 am

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  9. Minele Sonu said, on April 6, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    THE CANOVA MEDALLION
    The Canova Medallion is a large coin (not a pendant) that was utilized by the notorious Indian thug Behram to commit murder by strangulation between 1820 and 1840. In 1840, Behram was arrested and tried in a small courthouse in Jabalpur by the English Magistrate Col. Henry Sleeman. In 1920, some 80 years after his execution, a story about the notorious thug was published in a newspaper called Taj, an Urdu daily published from Jabalpur, whose editor at that time was a young man named Abul Ala Maududi. An artist’s impression (sketch) of the Canova medallion appeared in the newspaper with the caption in Urdu- “A coin seized from thug Behram, as drawn by a writer of the Kutcheri”. In the absence of photography in those days (1830s), the writer or artist at the Kutcheri (court) had faithfully sketched and recorded the item in fine detail, with the likeness of the great Italian artist Antonio Canova on one side and an image of his famous “Three Graces” on the other. There was no mention as to how Behram came in possession of such a medallion. But it was also reported to weigh 90 grams and had a diameter of about 2.3 inches. It was part of the items sized from Behram and was an important exhibit during his trial, its sinister purpose having been corroborated by his fellow thugs who were captured by Sleeman. Behram kept the medallion sewn in his silken cummerbund which he would skilfully use to throw around a victim’s neck. The weight of the metal together with his practiced dexterity made sure that the medallion landed on the victim’s adam’s apple enabling Behram to perform a quick and effective strangulation.
    A few months after the publication of the article by the Taj, the young Abul Ala Maududi was visited by a family who claimed to be descendents of the late Thug. They explained that they were residents of Nizamabad (a town in the Nizam’s territories or present day Andhra Pradesh) and had travelled to Jabalpur to sell various personal effects of the late Behram if Abul Ala Maududi were to find buyers for them. What the other items were is not known but Maududi, a staunch Muslim, did not want to have anything to do with the infamous medallion. It remained with the thug’s family till recent times before it was acquired by a numismatist from Bangalore for his private collection.
    A piece of interesting history passed down by the descendants of thug Behram is however noteworthy. The story goes that Behram was a Persian by descent claiming lineage to some worthy soldier of the invading Nadir Shah’s army who had settled in the north Indian kingdom of Awadh. Behram was married and even as he was incarcerated at Jabalpur the British had managed to arrest and bring to Jabalpur the eldest son of the thug, a teenager named Ali all the way from Awadh. This was intended to put pressure on Behram to reveal the location of all the booty he had collected over the years. On seeing his son also becoming an innocent scapegoat in the hands of the English officials of the East India company, Behram decided to turn Approver in the hope that both of them would receive better treatment in the hands of the law. His ploy worked to the extent that the innocent Ali could not be ill-treated by the officials any longer. And Behram admitted to involvement in 931 killings.
    As the Magistrate would not allow free movement to Behram, Ali was required to take instructions from Behram and lead the English officials to the various ravines, woods and sites where the hoards of booty was buried. On a couple of occassions the treasures buried by Behram were traced. The story goes that these seizures never arrived at Jabalpur as evidence or court exhibits. They were pocketed by the East India Company officials. Following Behram’s execution in 1840, Ali continued to be in a state of detention as the Company officials were certain the notorious thug may have revealed to his son the location of more booty. Ali was taken to Vellore cantonment and in an act of dubious kindness allowed to run an Indigo factory in the sepoy lines. For some years he was constantly harangued by East India Company officials to reveal the location of Behram’s treasures. But in spite of the abnormal presence of an Indigo factory run by a civilian Muslim in the midst of a British cantonment, the factory was never removed or relocated. Even if a new Company official unfamiliar with Ali’s history tried to do so, instructions in writing would immediately arrive from the influential and greedy coterie of bounty hunting officials of the East India Company justifying the continuance of the Indigo factory in their cantonment. There was no way that they were setting Ali free until he revealed all that he knew. In fact one such document (Correspondence from the Quarter Master General’s office regarding the Indigo Factory in the Sepoy Lines at Vellore) somehow came into Ali’s possession and remains in existence even today along with the infamous Canova medallion. At some point in time, Ali is believed to have escaped from the Vellore cantonment to the Nizam’s kingdom of Hyderabad and later reunited with his mother at Awadh in north India. Conditions being unsafe at Awadh he brought his mother as well as the rest of Behram’s family members to Nizamabad in Hyderabad state where their descendants live incognito up to today.

    • Anuraag Sanghi said, on April 6, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      Minele Sonu

      What an extraordinary story …

      And what more it has the ring of historicity to it!

      This person Maududi I wonder is the same Maududi whose role in Islam /Pak Politics is so famous?

      Wonder!

      Must check this out. Any links you to this story?


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