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or Thags Thugs

india, strangled, london, sleeman, thuggee and scouts

THUGS, or THAGS, a vast fraternity of murderers that formerly existed in India until the British government undertook to crush it out in the early '30 of the 19th century. The practitioners of Thuggee claimed to be a re ligious sect devoted to the goddess Kali, or Deve or Bhowanee, as she was indifferently called. Composed of Mohammedans and Hindus—mostly the former — the Thugs com bined robbery with assassination; they strangled their victims and interred the bodies. They operated in companies of from two to 200, with scouts, "inveiglers," apprentices and pro fessional stranglers. Some believe that the organization dates back to the days of Alex ander or even Xerxes; but more probably it originated with the wild camp-followers and plunderers who followed the Moslem armies of conquest. The craft was hereditary; its fol lowers were divided into Burkas, or persons fully instructed in the art, and kuboolas, or novices. They were first employed as scouts, then as Sextons, then as shumseeas or holders of hands, and lastly as Bhurtotes or Burkas. The novice became a cheyla or disciple to a high priest of the cult, a gooroo, who con ferred the rank or ordination upon the quali fied student. The Thugs traveled along the roads as traders or pilgrims, or as Sepoys seek ing or returning from service. Sometimes one of their number figured as a rajah with a large retinue of followers. Scouts gathered informa tion about travelers, and "inveiglers" wormed themselves into the confidence of their intended victims. The crimes were usually committed when all were encamped, and two Thugs were appointed to each person to be murdered. Oc casions have been known where as many as 60 persons were strangled in one party. The rules of the Thugs forbade the killing of women, fakirs, musicians, dancers, sweepers, oil vendors, carpenters, blacksmiths, maimed and leprous persons, and Ganges water-carriers. Despite the prohibitions however, women were frequently strangled. They did not murder white people on account of investigations ac companied by punishment that would surely result. This circumstance accounts for the fact

that, although Thuggee was known to exist in the 16th century, it was not partially unravelled till about 1812. At that time there were at least 10,000 Thugs plying their hideous trade; some 30,000 natives vanished annually, leaving no trace behind. In the midst of this reign of terror a savior suddenly appeared in the per son of Captain (afterward Maj.-Gen. Sir Wil liam) Sleeman, a junior official in the service of the East India Company. He began Thug hunting in 1830, with the title of "General Superintendent of Operations against Thuggee" conferred on him by Lord William Bentincic. An Irishman, Molony, had captured a roving band of 115 thugs in 1823, while another gang was seized in 1826. Within five years Sleeman had thousands of them in prison; 20 Thugs confessed to him that they had participated in 5,120 murders; one, Buhram, who had been a strangler for 40 years, had 931 murders to his discredit; Ramzan had 604, and Futty Khan 508. Sleeman broke the back of the organiza tion. Up to October 1835 no fewer than 1,562 Thugs had been committed; 382 were hanged and 986 transported or imprisoned for life. As a sect they no longer exist, though isolated cases still occur. Consult the annual 'Reports on the working of the Thagi and Dakaiti De partment of the Indian Government,' from 1860; 'Ramaseeana: a Vocabulary of the peculiar language used by the Thugs' (Cal cutta 1836) ; Quarterly Review, January 1857 and October 1901; Hutton's 'Thugs and Dacoits' (London 1857); Meadows-Taylor, 'Confessions of a Thug' (London 1879) ; Slee man, Sir W., 'The Thugs or Phansigars of India' (Philadelphia 1839) • and the same author's 'Report on the Depredations com mitted by the Thug Gangs of Upper and Cen tral India' (Calcutta 1840) and 'Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official' (London 1844; new ed., August 1915) • Sue, Eugene, The Wandering Jew' (1844-45).