Thuggee or tuggee were the acts of Thugs, an organised gang of professional robbers and murderers. Thugs travelled in groups across the Indian sub-continent for six hundred years and they were first mentioned in Ẓiyā-ud-Dīn Baranīs History of Fīrūz Shāh, dated around 1356. During the 1830s, the Thugs were targeted for eradication by Governor-General of India William Bentinck and his chief captain, Thugs were apparently destroyed by this effort. To take advantage of their victims, the Thugs would join travellers and gain their confidence and they would then rob and bury their victims. This led to the Thugs being called Phansigar, a more commonly used in southern India. The word Thuggee derives from the Hindi ठग, which means deceiver, related words are the verb thugna, from the Sanskrit स्थग and स्थगति. This term, describing the murder and robbery of travellers, is popular in South Asia, but not one of these did the sultan have killed. He gave orders for them to be put into boats and to be conveyed into the country, to the neighbourhood of Lakhnauti. The Thugs would thus have to dwell about Lakhnauti and would not trouble the neighbourhood of Delhi any more, membership was sometimes passed from father to son, as part of a criminal underclass. The leadership of established Thug groups tended to be hereditary, as the group evolved into a criminal tribe. Other men would become acquainted with a Thug band and hope to be recruited, as Thugs were respected by the community and had a camaraderie of numbers. Robbery became less a question of solving problems associated with poverty and more a profession, sometimes young children of travellers would be spared and groomed to become Thugs themselves, since children would help allay suspicion. A fourth way of becoming a Thug was by training with a guru, during which the candidate could be assessed for reliability, courage, discretion and discipline. The Thugs modus operandi was to join a caravan as fellow travellers, depending on the size of the target group, it might take hundreds of miles to reach a suitable place and time. There were variations on this method, the killing place needed to be remote from local observers, with no escape. Thugs had favoured places of execution, known as beles, attacks were conducted at night or during a rest break, when travellers would be busy with chores and background noises would mask any sounds of alarm. A quick, quiet method, leaving no stains and requiring no specialised weapon, was strangulation and this method, associated with Thuggee, led to the Thugs being called phansigars or stranglers by British troops. Usually two or three Thugs would strangle one traveller, they then needed to dispose of the bodies, either burying them or throwing them into a well, the leader of a Thugee gang was known as a jemadar
Image: ORIENTAL HEADS p 099 Multhoo Byragee Jogee. T'hug Convict, Native of Ajmere, aged 90
Watercolour by unknown early-19th-century artist of three Thugs strangling a traveller; one holds his feet, another his hands and a third tightens the ligature around his neck.
Sketch by the same artist of a group of Thugs stabbing the eyes of murdered travellers before throwing the bodies into a well.
William Henry Sleeman, superintendent of the Thuggee and Dacoity Department