Crime, Governance and the Company Raj. The Discovery of Thuggee
Posted: 29 Feb 2008
Date Written: 2002
In 1830 W. H. Sleeman, a servant of the East India Company, 'discovered' a religious cult of highway robbers. Victims were murdered at the scene of the crime by strangulation with a silk scarf. This phenomenon he termed 'thuggee' and the gang members who preyed upon native travellers 'thugs'. They were, he asserted, 'villains as subtle, rapacious, and cruel, as any who are to be met in the records of human depravity'. This paper examines the history of the thuggee phenomenon, situating it in the context of British colonial expansion into the subcontinent. It is argued that both the 'discovery' of thuggee and its eventual demise in the face of competing images of native criminality flowed from the impact upon native society of expanding British authority and the needs of governance to know, categorize and subdue the Indian subject.
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