Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Misguided Essay on Thuggery

Thugs strangle a traveler.
What to do about the Thuggee, more commonly known as Thugs?

The Bear is certain you have heard of this death cult that is causing so much suffering around the world. They stem from various Muslim tribes in India, but are reported to be devoted to the Goddess Kali.

Kali is a Hindu goddess often associated with death and destruction. She is often depicted with a bloody knife in one hand, and a severed head in the other.

The Thugs are a cult, or guild, of professional thieves and murderers. Their modus operandi is to join a caravan and gain the trust of the travelers. Once their intended victims have been lulled into a false sense of security, the Thugs wait for the perfect moment to attack. Although they will use any weapon if need be, they are most famous for the garrotte: a yellow cord, or scarf with which they strangle their victims.

A group of thugs.
It is difficult to say how many people Thugs have killed worldwide, but the Guinness Book of World Records puts it at two million. A single Thug named "Behram" is associated with 931 killings, although he admitted to actually killing "only" 125 people. Thugs seem proud of their murderous exploits, and enjoy being photographed.

Recently, the Thugs have been active Syria and Iraq. They kidnap Westerners and hold them hostage for so long as they are useful to the Thugs. Their end comes at the edge of the cruel knife as their heads are severed from their bodies.

I feel like Emily Litella.
Wait. What's that?

You say 19th Century British civil servant William Sleeman used profiling and intelligence as head of a special Thugee Department in India to ruthlessly uncover and destroy Thug cells and suppress their evil cult, ending their scourge forever?

Oh. The Bear seems to have gotten one or two facts wrong, because it seems all that happened in Victorian times.

Never mind.

But in any case, the Bear will allow Mark Twain to close this misguided essay with his account of the successful defeat of the Thugs from Following the Equator. Read this passage, and think.

There is one very striking thing which I wish to call attention to. You have surmised from the listed callings followed by the victims of the Thugs that nobody could travel the Indian roads unprotected and live to get through; that the Thugs respected no quality, no vocation, no religion, nobody; that they killed every unarmed man that came in their way. That is wholly true—with one reservation. In all the long file of Thug confessions an English traveler is mentioned but once—and this is what the Thug says of the circumstance:
"He was on his way from Mhow to Bombay. We studiously avoided him. He proceeded next morning with a number of travellers who had sought his protection, and they took the road to Baroda."
We do not know who he was; he flits across the page of this rusty old book and disappears in the obscurity beyond; but he is an impressive figure, moving through that valley of death serene and unafraid, clothed in the might of the English name.
We have now followed the big official book through, and we understand what Thuggee was, what a bloody terror it was, what a desolating scourge it was. In 1830 the English found this cancerous organization embedded in the vitals of the empire, doing its devastating work in secrecy, and assisted, protected, sheltered, and hidden by innumerable confederates —big and little native chiefs, customs officers, village officials, and native police, all ready to lie for it, and the mass of the people, through fear, persistently pretending to know nothing about its doings; and this condition of things had existed for generations, and was formidable with the sanctions of age and old custom. If ever there was an unpromising task, if ever there was a hopeless task in the world, surely it was offered here—the task of conquering Thuggee. But that little handful of English officials in India set their sturdy and confident grip upon it, and ripped it out, root and branch! How modest do Captain Vallancey's words sound now, when we read them again, knowing what we know:
"The day that sees this far-spread evil completely eradicated from India, and known only in name, will greatly tend to immortalize British rule in the East."
It would be hard to word a claim more modestly than that for this most noble work.
Bloody knives, severed heads, right old
Victorian relics, wot?


  1. I own a book about Thugee called "Thug or a Million Murders" written by the grandson of the man who wiped them out. According to the author, James Sleeman, the ancestors of the Thugs were a Persian tribe called the Sagartii, who came to India with a Mohammedan invader. Interestingly enough, many of the Thugs were Muslims, too.

  2. now that was really interesting.

  3. I remember a movie starring Pierce Brosnan called The Deceivers. It was about the Thugs, and was pretty good, as I recall. Steve, that sounds like a good book.

    Fortunately, such things as murderous cults are a relic of the distant past, and remain but a macabre curiosity in our times.


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