Organised crime in the garb of religion in 19th Century
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Organised crime in the garb of religion
in 19th Century India -Thuggee
Major General Sir William Henry Sleeman K. C. B.
(He made India’s roads safe for travel and commerce
and was instrumental in the abolition of Sati in India)
Organised crime in the garb of religion in
19th Century India -Thuggee
• The Thug Menace
• More than a hundred Thug gangs prowled India’s highways and
annually killed about 40,000 travellers in the early 19th
Thugs were held together by a perversion of religion that made killing a
part of worship. The gangs were knit together by a strange and bizarre
regimen of life, that destroyed their victims with a combination of guile
and cruelty almost unparalleled in the history of crime anywhere in the
world. The Thugs had been plying their trade undetected for nearly 500
• K. F. Rustomji , Former D. G., B.S.F.
Organised crime in the garb of religion in
19th Century India -Thuggee
• A. Results of the Dept. of Thuggee
• B. Thugs & Modus Operandi
• C. Sir William H. Sleeman
• D. Strategy of the Dept. of Thuggee
• F. Plates -1.Thugs demonstrating 2. Sleeman 3. Theme map
depicting depradations. 4. Thug genealogical tree.
A. Results of The Department of Thuggee
The Department for the Suppression of Thuggee was founded on 10th
It was the first specialized department to be created in the world to tackle
Organised crime and also for rehabilitation of convicts and their progeny. By 1840
the following results had been achieved.
• Sent for trials ……………………… 3689
• Sentenced to be hanged …………….466
• Transported for Life ………………. 1564
• Imprisoned for Life ………………… 933
• Confined for various periods ……… 81
• Set free for good conduct …………… 86
• Escaped ……………………………….. 12
• Approvers …………………………….. 56
• Died before trials…………………… 208
• Acquitted………………………………… 97
• Balance ………………………………….186
• Were members of a criminal religious society known to
have existed as early as 12th
century. Derived name from
sthag in Sanskrit - to conceal. They were worshippers of
• More than a hundred gangs. A joint venture between
Hindus and Muslims.
• The sect of thugs had deep roots in Indian mythology
• Murder was committed with a degree of perfection. Clear-
cut responsibilities were laid out for each gang member-
Strangulator, Evidence concealer, the inveigler. The
leader/boss was titled Jemadar. His assistant carried the
sacred axe, the emblem of the Goddess and was the
omen reader/analyst/priest to the Gang.
As per Samachar Darpan, a respectable newspaper of those
days, Thug gangs killed on an average 10,000 travellers every
year between Narbada and the Sutlej. The figure for the whole
of India was estimated to be 40,000 by Col. James Sleeman.
• Thugs had their own language with secret signs and fierce
loyalty towards each other. They were guided by omens.
How Thugs went undetected for Centuries
• Lack of communication and primitive modes of travel. No
• Multiple states and jurisdiction issues.
• Prejudices to give evidence against thugs
• No evidence left behind by the Thugs
• Forward movement
• Protection from landlords /princes in return for blood money.
Legend/Myth of Kali or Kan Kali /Rukt Beej Dana
Origin of the divine profession
(Changed from the original Durga Saptshati and Devi
Mahamatya by Thugs)
• Once on a time the world was infested with a monstrous demon
named Rukt Bij-dana, who devoured mankind as fast as they
were created. So gigantic was his stature, that the deepest pools
of the ocean reached no higher than his waist. Kali cut the
demon with her sword as ordained by Lord Siva, the Lord of
Destruction, but from every drop of blood that fell to the ground
there sprang a new demon. She went on destroying them, till the
hellish brood multiplied so fast that she waxed hot and weary
with her endless task. She paused for a while, and from the
sweat, brushed off one of her arms, she created two men, to
whom she gave a rumal, or handkerchief, and commanded them
to strangle the demons. When they had slain them all, they
offered to return the rumal, but the goddess bade them keep it
and transmit it to their posterity, with the injunction to destroy all
men who were not of their kindred.
She condescended to present them with one of her teeth for a
pickaxe, a rib for a knife, and the hem of her skirt for a noose,
and ordered them, for the future, to cut and bury the bodies of
whom they destroyed. She also bade them to follow her
• Tarikhe Feroze Shahi by Zia-ud-din Burni (The History of
India as told by its Historians- Eliot and Dowson.)
• Monsieur Jean De Thevenot -French Traveler to India-
Voyage Contenant de La I’ndostan 1684 AD.
• Guru Nanak and Sajjan Thug of Multan
• Dr Sherwood-Asiatic Researches 1816 AD-On the Murderers
called Phansigars or Strangulators.
• General St. Leger – order dated 28th
April 1810 cautioning
troops going on leave to beware of Thugs.
The Sotha or the inveigler would lure innocent travelers to accompany
them while travelling for mutual safety from robbers and wild animals. The
Thugs would masquerade as pilgrims or soldiers to ward off any
suspicion. The lughas -evidence concealers would travel in advance and
keep the Bels (Graves) ready for burying the victims at pre-designated
stops, sometimes even chosen at the spur of the moment. The Jemadar or
the leader would give the jhirni(signal) and the Bhatotes or strangulators
would position themselves and strangulate the victims in a trice with their
scarves. The Lughas would deprive the victim of all valuables, make
gashes in the victims stomach and fill the voids with mud to avoid the
body swelling up and coming up after burial. The Bel would be covered
and all traces /evidence removed. The gang moved ahead in search of
new victims. They hunted with deceit, only the two legged creature,
nothing else. Prayers, fasting, sacrifice to the goddess were rituals strictly
adhered to. They usually killed without any bloodshed as ordained.
Sikhs, barbers, carpenters, women, man with goat/cow, oil man ,
mutilated or handicapped man were exempted.
Similar to Garrotte –Godfather. Spain, France etc.
Thugs in captivity giving a demonstration
of their modus operandi.
Photo: Felice Beato 1855
Viewer discretion is advised
• We are about to show a clip from the movie
• THE DECEIVERS
• by Merchant Ivory Productions.
• Director: Nicholas Meyer
Producer: Ismail Merchant
Screenplay: Michael Hirst, from the novel by John Masters
Photography: Walter Lassally
Music: John Scott
Editor: Richard Trevor
Production design: Ken Adam
Costumes: Jenny Beavan and John Bright
Executive producer: Michael White
Casting director: Celestia Fox and Jennifer Jaffrey
• Major General Sir William Henry Sleeman was a man of zeal and spirit far above
the ordinary and his extraordinary tenacity of purpose was in the final analysis
the reason why Thuggee could be eliminated. The legal procedures of the time
also helped a lot as they permitted quick and effective trials and deterrent
punishment to thugs
• K.F.Rustomji DG BSF (One of independent India's most respectable policeman)
– In the centenary issue of the Indian Police Journal –Thugs, Pindaris and
• I am a retired police officer. As a philatelist specializing in police stamps, I have
brought out a special picture postcard on Sleeman, the greatest policeman who
ever lived, destroyed a cult, who were responsible for a million murders over
centuries. I am still interested in the exploits of great policemen of the past.
Sleeman is the greatest policeman of all times.
• Sidney Kitson (Indian Police Service 1954)
• To tackle terrorism, a federal unit like Sir W. H. Sleeman’s Anti-Thuggee force
should be created. Are our state leaders listening?
V. Balachandran I.P.S. (1959) (Sleeman’s List- Asian Age- 12 September 2006)
Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.`
You shall be a great loss to the country in the administration of
which you have had so great a share and I know not how you
would be replaced in that work so important to humanity, of the
extirpation of the Thugs, which has been successfully carried on
towards its complete accomplishment under your especial
Believe me with great esteem and respect.
Very truly yours
William H. Bentinck
India's Governor General.
(In a letter to Sleeman on July 18,1834 written from Ootacamond
in his own handwriting.)
This letter was in response to Sleeman’s resignation on account
of persistent illness. Sleeman later withdrew his resignation.
Sir W. H. Sleeman was an accomplished Oriental linguist, well
versed in Arabic, Persian, Urdu as well as Latin, Greek and
French. His works afford many proofs of the keen interest which
he took in the sciences of Geology, Agricultural Chemistry and
Political Economy and of his intelligent appreciation of the
lessons taught by history. Nor was he insensible to the charms of
art, specially poetry. His knowledge of the customs and modes of
thought of the people of India, which has rarely been equalled and
never been surpassed was more than half the secret of his notable
success as an Administrator. The greatest achievement of his
unselfish and busy life was the suppression of the system of the
organized murder known as Thuggee and in the execution of that
prolonged and onerous task he displayed the most delicate tact,
the keenest sagacity and extraordinary power of organization
Vincent Arthur Smith I. C. S.
Sir William Henry Sleeman K.C.B.
(Sobriquet Thuggee Sleeman)
• William Henry Sleeman popularly known as Thuggee Sleeman was
the General Superintendent of the Department of Suppression of
Thugee and Dacoitee for the whole of India . Sleeman died at sea
(aboard the East India ship Monarch and was buried at sea) on
• He was knighted on 5th
February 1856 after 46 years of unbroken
service in India.
• Administrator-par excellence. Adept at Famine and epidemic
handling. Was easily accessible, sympathetic and
considerate. Action oriented. Decision maker.
• Environmentalist-planted fruit trees on both sides of the
roads for travelers for 86 miles.
• Agriculturist-Introduced the sugarcane, Saccharum
violaaceum from Mauritius in India and was awarded the
Gold medal by the Indian Agricultural Society.
• Religion-was a private affair but when he was not blessed
with a child even after four years of marriage he had no
qualms in visiting a shrine to seek blessings for a child. His
prayers were answered and Henry Arthur was born on
1833. He donated land and money for the shrine.
The shrine still exists in the town of Sleemanabad in M.P. in
India, where people still revere him. He got married on 28th
June 1828 in Jabalpur at the Christchurch.
• Human-His views on the practice of Impressments and press
gangs, flogging, purveyance and on Slavery are well
documented in his books and show his Humanist nature.
• Policeman par excellence. Army Officer. Absolutely Spartan
in his habits.
• Wife- He married a French woman from an émigrés noble
family. Amélie Josephine Blandin de Chalain de Fontenne.
• Friendly nature-He was a master of many languages -Arabic,
Latin, English, French, Urdu, Persian and Greek. His mastery
over many Indian languages won him many friends in India.
• Author-his many works are for a serious reader only whether on
crime or economics or general administration.
• Social reformer-He banned the practice of Sati in Jabalpur
district in March 1828 on taking charge as a Collector of the
district. The EIC banned the practice vide Act XVI in December
1829 in the Bengal Presidency. The ban was extended to
Madras and Bombay presidencies much later.
He formed a school of Industry and a Factory with a high brick wall on the
periphery and sheds inside, where convicts carried and learnt alternate
various professions like blanket making, wick making, carpet weaving,
blacksmiths, dyers, spinners, carpenters .This was established in 1837. The
same premises house a vocational school these days in Jabalpur.
• A village for approvers was also set up and was surrounded by a mud wall.
They were however subject to surveillance. Captain Brown was responsible
for these reformatories. The Thugs interned here weaved a carpet 80 feet by
40 feet weighing two tons for Queen Victoria and this was taken to the
Waterloo Chambers in the Windsor Castle.
• Christchurch School and Jabalpur College in 1835.
• Three attempts were made on Sleeman’s life. He escaped on all occasions.
• Sleeman's wrote a number of books or reports e.g.
• Ramaaseana (785 pages) or the secret language of the Thugs and
measures taken by the Government to eradicate them.
• System of Megpunnaism (A rare form of thugee kidnapping for
• Report on the Depredations of thug gangs of Upper and Central
India (549 pages)
• Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official (917 Pages)
• Bagree dacoits (433 pages)
• Journey through the Kingdom of Oudh (760 pages) and
• On the Doctrine of Ricardo.
• STUART N. GORDON’S VIEW ……
• Bobby –London Policeman’s nick name WHY?
D Strategy of the Deptt. of Thuggee
• Crime maps and genealogical trees. A meticulous study of all
approvers’ statements enabled them to draw up genealogical
trees and charts, obtain an accurate knowledge of the modus
operandi and the social practices of the Thugs and finally to
forecast movements and mark out criminals that had to be
sought out and arrested. Theme maps to eradicate cholera in
London were used in England in 1854. New York police
introduced in 1998 -Compstat system.
Strategy adopted by the Deptt. of Thuggee
Theme map of Thug Depradation -1836
Strategy adopted by the Deptt. of Thuggee –
Thug Genealogical Chart –Organisation Chart
Strategy of the Thuggee Department
• Crime maps and genealogical
trees. A meticulous study of all
approvers’ statements enabled
them to draw up genealogical trees
and charts, obtain an accurate
knowledge of the modus operandi
and the social practices of the
Thugs and finally to forecast
movements and mark out criminals
that had to be sought out and
arrested. Theme maps to eradicate
cholera in London were used in
England in 1854. New York police
introduced in 1998 -Compstat
system. Thematic crime maps were
used in India in 1836!
Strategy adopted by the Deptt. of Thuggee
• Exradition treaties signed with Indian States by EIC.
• Approvers-The department relied on approvers for evidence and a
reprieve in return. This method was also used for the first time in India.
• Changes were incorporated in the Laws for severe and deterrent punishment,
removal of courts jurisdictions and punishment as per the Judge rather than
the dictate/fatwas of the Maulvis. Reference specially to the ACT XXX of 1836.
• Judges used to travel to the site of the crime and set up courts and decided the
criminal cases immediately. Punishments were immediately carried out.
• ACT XXX 1836
• 1. It is hereby enacted that whoever shall be proved to have belonged either
before or after passing of this act to have belonged to any gang of Thugs either
within or without the territories of the East India Company shall be punishable
with imprisonment for life with hard labour.
• 2. And it is hereby enacted that every person accused of the offence made
punishable by this ACT may be tried by any court ,which would have been
competent to try him,if this offence had been committed within the district of
that court sits ,anything to the contrary in any regulation not withstanding.
• 3. And it is hereby enacted that no court shall on trial of any person accused of
the offence made punishable by this Act require any futwah from any law
• Informers: Even apprehended thugs were allowed freedom to
work inside a gang as informers in return for a reprieve.
Feringhea, the Royal Thug was apprehended on the basis of
informers. He turned approver and later on got a reprieve. He
died an ascetic on the banks of the Narbada. Amir Ali had killed
783 victims but had no remorse as he said he served the
Goddess. He had no remorse at having killed so many people.
• Patrolling: Use of the crime maps and the subsequent analysis
pointed out crime prone areas where patrolling was intensified
and checkpoints introduced.
• Mobility: Use of Cavalry by the policemen helped in greater
mobility. Some policemen distinguished themselves in
courageous deeds, which involved days of pursuit on
• Firearm: Firearms were made available to the policemen.
• Communication. Circulation of crime theme maps and
wanted criminals was a regular affair in the department.
Support of Lord William Bentinck -Governor General of
India. Sleeman's access to Indian languages and Ramasi
were added advantages. Easy accessibility to Sleeman, as
an administrator by the general public and his concern for
them were great assets to the deptt.
• Administration: Administration was getting a firm grip over
law and order and the police work in the thanas improved
considerably with no political interference and a motivated
• Recruitment: Sleeman selected and handpicked the best
men. A practice in vogue in the Intelligence Bureau till 1977
- earmarking scheme. First finger print bureau in the world?
History of Thuggee Deptt.
The Department of Thuggee was given additional
responsibility to neutralise organised gangs of dacoits. The
Department later became the agency for the collection and
collation of criminal intelligence, as also the rehabilitation of the
former thugs and dacoits. With the promulgation of the Police Act
1861, and the Provincial Governments being given the
responsibility for criminal administration, the Department lost
much of its relevance as an organisation to deal with serious
crimes. The foundation of the Indian Association by Surendra
Nath Banerjee in 1876 resulted in the Thuggee and Dacoity
Department being entrusted the additional duty of collecting
secret and political intelligence. With the formation of the Central
Special Branch (the precursor of the Intelligence Bureau, Central
Bureau of Investigation and State Criminal Investigating
Departments.) in 1887, the Thuggee department came to be
associated with the Central Special Branch. The Thuggee
Department was finally abolished in 1904, after about seventy
years of glorious existence.
The Log of the MonarchThe Log of the Monarch
A journal of the proceedings on board the EAST INDIA SHIPA journal of the proceedings on board the EAST INDIA SHIP
Kept by Fleetwood John Williams ,Midshipman from CalcuttaKept by Fleetwood John Williams ,Midshipman from Calcutta
towards London. Captain John Wiltshire in Command.towards London. Captain John Wiltshire in Command.
Remarks Sunday ,February 10th ,1856. Courses SW 6 W.Remarks Sunday ,February 10th ,1856. Courses SW 6 W.
Unsteady. Light Breeze and Fine .3.45 A.M Departed this lifeUnsteady. Light Breeze and Fine .3.45 A.M Departed this life
Major General William Henry SleemanMajor General William Henry Sleeman
7.30 AM Tacked Ship7.30 AM Tacked Ship
10.30 Mustered Ship’s company and performed divine service10.30 Mustered Ship’s company and performed divine service
for the departed soul on the quarter deck.for the departed soul on the quarter deck.
Lat. By Obs. S 2.22 Long. By Obs. E 82.51Lat. By Obs. S 2.22 Long. By Obs. E 82.51
Monday, February 11th
, 1856. Courses E.N.E. Light and Fine.
6.30 a.m. Committed the body of the departed to the deep with the
Guess who this is?
• HINT : He is the founder of the Deptt. of Economics at MIT and a Nobel Laureatte and his
family size doubled when triplets arrived.
Prof. Paul A. Samuelson
Professor of Economics MIT
Nobel Laureate Economics 1970
• Even crime and punishment are susceptible to economic
analysis. Does crime pay? If there were no police and courts
and never any punishments or deterrents to crime more people
would find themselves rewarded by illegal activities. On the
other hand, if strong locks are employed private and public
guards employed who maintain a vigilant watch, if
apprehension is likely, if trial is swift and the jury and the judge
can be presumed to be quite accurate in distinguishing
between the truly guilty and the innocent, that part of crime
which is undertaken in the rational hope of reward may be
reduced in total amount.
SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLESEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE
(STEPHEN R. COVEY)(STEPHEN R. COVEY)
Be Proactive - Sati, Pre-1835 Thuggee success
Begin with the End in Mind- Colonel Ouvry 9th
Put First Things First – Communication gaps reduced
Think Win/Win- Famine handling
Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood –
Synergize – Approvers and even convicts as informers and allies.
Sharpen the Saw- Forever inquisitive and seeker of knowledge
and an Author
William Sleeman a direct
descendant of Sir W.H.
Sleeman and Rajesh
Rampal at the former’s
residence in U.K.
William has never been to
India. A very private
person, he has preserved
the family heirlooms very
You can see Sir W.H.
Sleeman’s portrait, sword
and baton in the
background. Partly in the
picture is the portrait of
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Earlier Films on Thuggee
DirectorNicholas MeyerYear1988StarringPierce Brosnan as William SavageBased on a
story byJohn Masters
If the film has any faults, then it is only because of the film makers need or desire to create
tension. Truth is generally stranger than fiction, hence the idea of the film in the first
place. However, some of the coincidences and nick-of-time rescues are just too close to be
believable. The film also gets a little tied down in some strange pseudo-religious mystical
associations. Again, these are a little too far out of the scope of reality to be wholly
believable. The fact that it is based on a true story, however loosely, makes this film even
more of a useful film to watch.
The 1939 film, Gunga Din and the 1984 Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of
Doom are other films on the subject.
Another popular movie on the Thugs of Benaras was "Sunghursh" (1968) directed by
Harnam Singh Rawail and based on a story Mahasweta Devi and it starred the legendary
Indian actor of yesteryears Dilip Kumar.
Sleeman died at Sea on 10th February, 1856 at 3.45 AM about 600 miles south of Sri Lanka
aboard the East India ship MONARCH on his return to England after 46 years of unbroken
service in India. Story starts in a flashback from the burial at sea on 11th February, 1856 6.30
Long shot - MONARCH at High Seas.
Close up- Captain John Wiltshire comes down on the deck. Sailors are busy stitching Sleeman's
body into a canvas bag. Sailors give him the Naval salute. He salutes back. Captain enters the
cabin where Midshipman Fleetwood John Williams salutes and puts up the Log of the Monarch
for his signatures and says," The log for your signature. We are ready for the Burial, Captain."
The Log of the Monarch
A journal of the proceedings on board the EAST INDIA SHIP ‘MONARCH’
Kept by Fleetwood John Williams ,Midshipman from Calcutta towards London.
Remarks Sunday ,February 10th ,1856 Light and Fine 3.45 A.M Departed this life Major General
William Henry Sleeman.
7.30 AM Tacked Ship
10.30 Assembly on Quarter deck for divine service for the departed soul.
Lat. By Obs. S 2.22 Long. By Obs. E 82.51
Captain signs and says,"John, give him the Union jack burial. I shall get Mrs Sleeman."
"Aye, Aye , Sir"
Captain walks down and knocks at a cabin. Opens the door and nods at Amelie inside.
The body is now covered in the Union Jack with only the face showing. Amelie Nods. The Sailors
pass the last stitch through the Union Jack and the Nose of the body. Amelie grimaces and turns
her face away. The body is lowered into the Sea. Captain salutes. Guns are fired. The camera
turns on Amelie and her face is full of tears. A fellow Lady Passenger asks," How did it all
Amelie chokes and starts," It started ......"