thuggees smallIn a parallel universe, someone who resembled the Earthbound Sir Robert Peel explained to the British Parliament in early 1835 that it was wrong to blame peaceful Thuggees for the actions of a few. Radical Thuggees, who might be called Thugs for short, he suggested, were the problem. Hence the word thugs entered the lexicon.

I was thinking of this piece of pseudo-historical trivia when reading Wikipedia on the topic of Thuggees. Here is an excerpt:

The modus operandi was to join a caravan and become accepted as bona-fide travellers themselves. The Thugs would need to delay any attack until their fellow travellers had dropped the initial wariness of the newcomers and had been lulled into a false sense of security, gaining their trust. Once the travellers had allowed the Thugs to join them and disperse amongst them – a task which might sometimes, depending on the size of the target group, require accompaniment for hundreds of miles – the Thugs would wait for a suitable place and time before killing and robbing them.

There were obviously variations on this theme. When tackling a large group, a Thuggee band might disperse along a route and join a group in stages, concealing their acquaintanceship, such that they could come to outnumber their intended victims by small, non-threatening increments. If the travellers had doubts about any one party, they might confide their worries to another party of the same Thuggee band. The trusted band would thus be the best placed to deal with these members of the caravan at the appropriate time, but might also be able to advise their colleagues to ‘back off’ or otherwise modify their behaviour, to allay suspicion.

It seems to me that this modern description of Thugs and their behaviour reflects early prejudicial views which, at the time, were caught under the umbrella title of Thugophobia. It was this that apparently prompted the otherworldly Sir Robert to draw his distinction between peaceful Thugs and their radicalised brethren. And for that, I think, all fair minded people should be thankful.

I should add that any suggestion that any of the above has application outside of the particular matter of thuggees is without foundation. Any connection that some may think it has with other phenomena is entirely coincidental.


5 thoughts on “Thugee-ophobia

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    I do wonder what on earth you are on about Peter? What a puzzling conundrum! Must give it some serious consideration. Is there a prize on offer for the correct solution?

    Bill Martin.

  • en passant says:

    An excellent analysis of the problem of ‘those who cannot be named’ as that would be racist (although no race is involved) ‘-phobic’ (although they really do want to kill us all) and discriminatory (because it would be bad for us to be rich, happy and cohesive when the rest of the world is not). However, I must rate this a fail as you have not listed how the British hunted down, prosecuted and publicly executed enough of the thugs until they turned to other pursuits that attracted less retaliation. It is simply coincidence, as we are all assured, that the Wikipedia entry on them notes: ” Although the Thugs traced their origin to seven Muslim tribes, Hindus appear to have been associated with them at an early period” Damned Hindus again …

    When Mark Twain visited India he was aware of the threat and the countermeasures the British were adopting. He wrote:
    ‘… 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.”
    Who in the once fair land of Oz is to be our Captain Vallancey?

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    An excellent comment, a great enhancement to the original, witty article.

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