Saturday, 17 September 2016

Sir. William Sleeman who ended the disgraceful thuggee menace - British India

In the colonial India, the British  during their reign, encountered so many difficult problems and bottlenecks and they successfully tackled them without any hitch. Not so in the case of thuggee  issue, a menace to the growing society. Scores of innocent Indian travelers disappeared on the long caravan routes without a trace of clues. The spree of murders without bloodshed continued unabated without any viable solution in sight.  One Sir. William Henry Sleeman, with full support from Gov. General William Bentinick, took the challenge seriously and after a long battle eliminated the worst, disgraceful criminal bands in the annals of world criminal history.

Major-general Sir William Henry Sleeman KCB (8 August 1788 - 10 February 1856) a competent, duty-bound British soldier and administrator in British India, is best remembered for his major contribution toward  complete elimination of the thuggee activities in certain parts of north India that gave nightmares to the the people who began to lose confidence in the British administration. Born in Stratton, Cornwall,  the son of Philip Sleeman, he joined the Bengal army in 1809. Sleeman's  chequered carrier saw him holding   several positions -he fought  in the Nepal War between 1814–1816,  he served as junior assistant to the Gov. General in 1820, etc. 
He also did magisterial duties in Sagar town till 1835.  

The British having  lost their patience, decided to put an end to the grappling problem of thuggee menace as they were secretly protected by some powerful, unscrupulous  zamindars - land owners in some remote parts of N. India.The incidences of killing of innocent travelers  in a caravan were on the increase and it became a serious issue with the English rulers. Only in the 1830s, the thuggees  were suppressed by the East India company officials after long and successful operations. The credit goes to William Sleeman  and William Bentinick. Gov. General of India who made every effort to get to the bottom of this worst  criminal  activity.William Sleeman, after prolonged tailing of the perpetrators of crime by his subordinates, caught one "Feringhea" alias Syyed  Amir Ali who  coughed up all that he knew of the cult  and
 ultimately became the prime prosecution witness for the Crown. He gave in-depth  details of their operations, etc when he was taken to a grave that contained about 100 bodies. Earlier government sleuths discovered numerous graves, containing scores of bodies near the caravan routes in secluded places that won't raise suspicion.
A separate Thuggee and Dacoity Department was created in 1835 with Sleeman as its head by the government to find a permanent remedy for this dacoity problem. As the people had been warned about their mode  and place of operation, etc., through circulars, public announcements, etc they became cautious. As a result of continuous  monitoring and  tailing, loathsome thugs in thousands  were arrested, executed and some were expelled from the British territories.Their successful operations against the thuggees were, to a large extent, dependent on the captured thugs. The informants and whistle blowers were given protection by the government. The thuggee cult was completely suppressed for good by 1870. This criminal operations led to the formation of  Criminal Tribes Act (CTA) of 1871. After 1904 it became Central Criminal Intelligence department(CID). The tribes that were considered criminals still exist, though they lead a normal, honest life, because of the blot on their fore fathers, they are not well treated by the society. Numerous innocent tribal communities were affected by this act. 

In the southern part of Tamil Nadu, numerous Maravar communities were forced to register under CTA. A dynamic leader of exceptional ability and courage by the name of Sri Muthu Ramalinga Thevar (30 October 1908 - 30 October 1963), a prominent Forward Bloc leader and a staunch supporter  and close associate of Nethaji Bose, took the cudgels against the Madras Presidency government headed by the Justice party. Later the Congress ministry headed by Sri C. Rajagopala Chari was unable to repel the act. After his prolonged struggle, this law was at last repelled in 1946.

Sleeman successfully had his deputies follow certain strategies such as place of operations, choosing of their victims, their Modus Operandi, etc.,  that worked well. They picked up  certain consistent patterns that gave them the lead.   
thuggees, cult of assassins, India
 Thuggee meaning deceivers refer to bands of thieves, operating on the caravan routes away from the town and villages. These thugs with well-honed ability, skill and quick presence of mind, were known for their mastery over the deadliest murders  committed without blood shed and tight-lipped secrecy over their operations, similar to the mafia operations in Palermo, Sicily and the various crime families, operating in the Eastern Sea Board of the USA. They strictly followed omerta. Their specialty is choosing of right victims using codes, voice signals, bloodless murders and hiding of the dead bodies without any traces in safe places. The members in a band would act in perfect union, while committing the heinous crime. Their motive was just money, nothing else. No killing of children and women.

Indian Justice  VIPs and ordinary people.
The common method used was strangulation with a rumal, the yellow silk handkerchief each thug wore tied around his waist; It may also include occasional neck-breaking or poisoning  of food to kill a victim.

In the 19th century alone, the notorious thugs, it is believed, killed as many as 40,000 innocent travelers annually.  Estimates of  total death varies  widely as there is no proper record of their early growth and duration of their existence in the past. The Guinness book of Records show the thuggee cult killed  two million people over centuries. One historian Mike Dash said the cult killed 50,000 people annually over a period of 150 years.The thuggee   had been active since early 13th century.  Any way,  in the crime history of the world, there had never been such dreaded and detestable bands of thieves in any part of the world as the thuggees of the Indian subcontinent whose spree of murders baffled the British officials. It was the worst criminal operation in the world.
Politicians of plenty..

 As for Sleeman, it was a good job well done, completely eradicating the worst criminal gangs that had  successfully operated in the remote areas of India for centuries. Later he became the Resident at Gwalior from 1833 to 1849 and subsequently at Lucknow from 1849 to 1856. When Lord Dalhousie was trying to annex Awadh under some pretext, he opposed his movie, but his advice was ignored. Sleeman wrote three books on the thuggees - Language used by Thugs; Report on the Depredations Committed by the Thug Gangs of Upper and Central India; and The Thugs or Phansigars of India.

At Jabalpore, Sleeman married Amélie Josephine, the daughter of a French nobleman Count Blondin de Fontenne and the couple had seven children.

He died and was buried at sea near Ceylon on a recovery trip to Britain in 1856, just six days after being awarded the Order of the Bath. The village Sleemanabad in Madhya Pradesh, India was named in his honor.

Further reading: