« PreviousContinue »
'HE prevailing crimes seem to be forms of
robbery-often robbery by a gang of sworn
confederates, who break into houses and effect their purpose by violence or intimidation. This, of course, is burglary, but it has in India a well-understood description in the word “dacoitie” (which includes highway robbery), and is severely punished because of its element of confederation. There is need for vigorous dealing with it, for it is, in fact, a remnant of the awful system of robbery with murder known as “Thuggie.” This appalling form of systematised crime is now absolutely stamped out. But it presents a chapter in the history of human sin that must never be forgotten, and not unfrequently it is forced into recollection by the terrible facts which still blacken the annals of the Courts of India.
I knew well Captain James Paton—a name which ought to be for ever preserved in the history of the British Government of India as associated with the earliest practical measures for the education, under Government auspices, of the youth of India. He was Assistant-Resident at Lucknow, and “the Officer for the Suppression of Thuggism” in the then independent kingdom of Oudh, and placed by Colonel Sleeman (vol. i. p. 119) with another officer in the “foremost rank in this great work.” After his death I was favoured with a sight of his private journals, and of his copious records of the evidence taken in his Court from Thugs who became approvers. It is certain that for centuries there existed in most parts of India, and especially in its northern States, hordes of men, in gangs from ten to two or three hundred, of all the races, castes, sects, and religions of the country, who were bound together by awful oaths and secrets to commit robbery on the highway, and always by means of murder. They infested the roads and lurked in the cities under every form of deception, and particularly as itinerant barbers, as giving them the most favourable opportunities, and many of them were actually in situations of trust under the British Government. Each gang was a complete piece of machinery, comprising a priest, an instructor, inveiglers, stranglers, stranglers' assistants, gravediggers, and novices, appointed to their particular duties because of their special qualifications. In Hutchisson's “Pen and Pencil Sketches,” recently published, will be found on one page the portrait of an “inveigler” stamped with the characteristics of a smug, plausible, and loquacious hypocrite, and on another that of a stern and remorseless “strangler.” There is no doubt that it was common in those days for the police of a district to tolerate, and even co-operate, with these criminals on the condition that they carried on
their diabolical trade in other districts, and did not compromise the officials in their own. Careful examination of the records alluded to shows that while they despised petty theft and robbery through violence, they actually gloried in plunder when secured by strangulation with the “sacred handkerchief,” performed in the name of the goddess Kali! Often had my friend sat in his cutcherry with the room and the passages filled with men, traced and captured by his secret emissaries, every one of whom had been at many scenes of murder, and some of whom boasted of having themselves strangled one hundred victims!
I repeat that this chapter in the history of human sin must not be forgotten, and I therefore will place before the reader a few extracts from these confessions, which throw light on the foundation facts of this monstrous iniquity. One man among others exclaimed, “Thieving! Never, never! A thief is a contemptible being! If a banker's treasure were before me, and entrusted to my care, though in hunger and dying, I would spurn to steal; but let a banker be going on a journey, I would certainly murder him! I despise a robber!” Another: “We never steal! What God gives us He gives us in Thuggie. God is the giver ; we never steal !” It will be seen that robbery in itself was acknowledged to be criminal, but that when accompanied by murder as an act of worship and obedience to Kali, the criminality was removed. And this devotion to Kali was assumed for the very purpose of condoning the robbery. Hence said one, “Now that I have left off Thuggie, I would fling her image (Kali's] down a well! But were I going on Thuggie, I would, of course, pay my devotions to her. Does she not take all the blame upon herself and we go free?” To a Mohammedan the question was put, “You are a Mussulman. Are not Mussulmans ashamed to worship idols ?” And he answered, “ It is all on account of Thuggie, for without Bhowanee [another of Kali's names) how should we escape punishment from Thuggie ? she takes all the blame.” Yet more complete is the statement made by another : “It is God who kills, but Bhowanee has the name of it. If Bhowanee had her will she would kill every human being upon the earth in one day! She thirsts for blood! God has appointed blood for her food, saying, “Feed thou upon blood!' In my opinion this is very bad; but what can she do, being ordered to subsist on blood ? Bhowanee must be fed, and since the British Government has been suppressing our irade of murder, Bhowanee has begun with her own hands to devastate the country with disease and death. Men are everywhere propitiating her;
people in the villages are dying by twenties and forties. Within these last five years of the suppression of Thugs there certainly has been more disease."
The reference to “ blood” reminds me that it was believed by these men that it was not enough to strangle their victims, but that Kali
vellers to death ?” And one, replying for the rest, answered, “Yes; we sometimes feel compassion. On one occasion, some seven or eight years ago, we were a gang of forty Thugs, and some eleven miles from Lucknow, on the Cawnpore road, we met a very handsome youth, a native officer of rank, on horseback, in the King of Oudh's service, who had a camel with him and six sepoys and some servants, and some one or two thousand rupees. We inveigled him, and accompanied him to the bail' [place selected for the murder]. Every Thug was ready for the destruction of the youth and his whole party, stranglers being all ready for their work—two men for each traveller. The light of the fire fell upon the countenance of the fair and handsome young man doomed to death, who was the head of the party, and as he sat upon his horse he looked so very beautiful that we all felt compassion. I was appointed to seize the reins of his horse, another to strangle, and our leader, who had inveigled the youth, was appointed to drag him from his horse; but so beautiful was he, as the light of the fire fell upon his face, that we could not find it in our hearts to kill him, so we let him and his whole company pass on their way, though it was a rich prize-a camel and many rupees and much property. It often happens that we thus let men off from pity.”*
I place before the reader a story told me by the same authority, which will show the methods
must have literally “ blood” itself offered to her, and that accordingly not only was there "the sacred handkerchief,” but “the sacred knife," presented to the goddess in worship prior to every expedition ; and after the strangulation the victim was pierced by the knife and blood thus shed to satisfy the cravings of the goddess! And yet, though these murderers could thus deliberately trample their humanity under foot, and even recite their deeds with evident relish and vaunting, they gave tokens of the presence within them of the gentle and tender instincts of our nature. There is among the records a “Note.-An aged Thug in irons—having become a king's evidence as the condition of his life being spared, and bound to have no concealment, and to aid the Government in the arrest and conviction of all his accomplices —was called into court to confront a party of Thugs in chains, and to point out those he knew. He looked earnestly as he placed himself successively in front of each, at one, and then at another, and, fixing his eyes upon a handsome youth in chains, before whom he stood, the old man wept-it was his own son, Binda, whom he thus recognised at the bar of justice. The son, a pro
a fessional murderer, could no longer restrain his feelings. Seeing his aged father weep, he also burst into tears."
After reference to this incident, the question was put to some Thugs under examination, “Do not these feelings of kindness sometimes make you relent from your purpose of putting your fellow-tra
adopted by these murderers, and illustrate the marvellous cunning which is still at work in the perpetration of crime in India. A native gentleman, who had come to Lucknow for a sum of money, was returning to his residence at some distance in the country. He was a Mussulman of powerful build, and well armed, and started upon
* These extracts are from a short sketch of Captain Paton's life, printed in 1848 for local circulation.
a strong and fleet horse. As he journeyed he reached a plantation, and, after safely passing through, was leaving it, when, lo! two men, in rags and dust, stretched out their arms, and cried, “For Allah's sake, give us alms! we are dying from want of food!” but, brandishing his whip around him, he galloped past. In the evening he arrived at a khan (inn), in which he purposed resting for the night. There he found among the occupants three Mussulman gentlemen, who, entering casually into conversation with him, stated that they were travelling together for the sake of safety, and had a considerable amount of coin with them, some of which they, as by accident, let him see. As it turned out that their journey, at least for some distance, was on the same road, they begged to be allowed to accompany him, and be further protected by his arms; but he, remarking that their horses were not so fleet as his, and his business was urgent, politely declined their society. He therefore in the morning started without them. Towards sunset he was approaching his destination, but had to pass over a track of treeless and sandy country, and here his eye was arrested by an open grave with a body at its side wrapt in grave clothes, with its head towards Mecca, and two men standing by. As they caught sight of him they ran towards him bewailing the fate of their friend, and crying, “For Allah's sake, have compassion! Our brother is dead, and we know not the words of the futwah (opening chapter of the Kurán), and dare not bury him without uttering them. You must know them ; if you desire salvation you will come and repeat them. Have pity, for Allah's sake!” Here was a sore test of the piety and loyalty demanded by his faith. As soon as a man is laid in his grave --so reads the legend—the two angels of judgment will address him, one to take cognisance of his good deeds, and the other of his evil deeds, and the first question will be, Was the futwah recited when he was buried ? To suffer a man to be buried without it was to bring upon himself the curse of Allah and his prophet (“ blessings on his head !”), and for this he will have himself, when buried, to suffer through the angels of judgment. How can he refuse ? He gets off his horse and approaches the grave. But he must not recite the words on so solemn an occasion with arms upon him. These are taken off and laid on the ground. The two men stand one on each side of him, and, kneeling, he begins the recitation.
But scarcely have the opening words been uttered before the two men drag him to the earth, and the body in the grave clothes springs to his neck, and in a few seconds he is strangled, stabbed, robbed of his gold, and buried in the grave.
All the men who had accosted him in his journey were Thugs, and one of them, in proof of the murder, led the way to the grave, where the bones of their hunted victim were found.*
It has been already stated that happily the systematised atrocities belonging to Thuggie have passed away, but this reference has been made to them because they represent the materials and influences which yet exist. No doubt the love and habit of plunder was at the root of the system. The representations of the divinity worshipped accord with the characteristics uniformly ascribed to the present day to this national goddess. There is assuredly sufficient explanation in them for any degree of atrocious cruelty that may be found in those who really adore and serve such an ideal of the Divine. But probably the special conceptions indicated were largely fabricated for the purpose of deceiving these criminals into the belief that they might pursue their trade of plunder with impunity. The same human nature ready for unscrupulous methods of obtaining gain is everywhere in India, and the same intense and busy cunning, and the same terrible divinity is regnant throughout the country. It is the power of Britain that destroyed this ancient and horrible system of diabolical crime, and but for that power, probably, it or something like it, would reassert itself. And indeed long after its suppression in our old pro vinces it was discovered and put down in the Pun jaub. (“Life of Lord Lawrence,” vol. i. pp. 298-9.) At any rate, much of the same close confederacy and astute entrapments are found in the dacoitie of the present day, taxing to the utmost the keenest intelligence and the profoundest sagacity of our Courts in discovering the ways and means of such crime. Let the reader observe how much of the spirit, and even the method of murder belonging to Thuggie are to be found in the following case. It was narrated to me by a judge as being the last sentence of death pronounced by him before leaving for a recent visit to England.
In a cluster of villages at some distance from the head station there had been a succession of incendiary fires attended by robbery. It was evident that there was a gang of marauders at work, and very adroitly did they do their business, managing in the midst of the confusion and alarm caused by the fires in the night to get hold of money, jewels, and other property, and run off with them. Suspicion at last rested on one man in particular as the leader of the gang, and eyes and ears were everywhere on the alert to discover him if possible in the very act. One night an attempt to break through the house of a villager was arrested by the timely waking up of the occupants, and the suspected man was caught on the spot. His accomplices escaped, but one remained at a short distance in hiding, and watched the subsequent proceedings, and, turning approver, gave important testimony at the trial which took place. It came out in the evidence that as soon as their prisoner was in their power his captors resolved on personally inflicting some dire punishment. But nothing was to be done hastily. They bound the poor wretch tightly and sent for the headman of the village.
On his arrival he exclaimed, “This is the villain that has been burning our houses. We will take care he never does such a thing again.” Under his direction some stout bamboos were obtained, the man :tretched on his
I was not aware till after this narrative had been written that the story had ever appeared in print. I find it is given by Sleeman, in his “ Rambles and Recollections,” published 1844, vol. i. p. 106, but with some additions and variations. I give the story as originally told me by the high official already named, to whose province belonged the victim and the criminals.
back, the bamboos laid across his neck and chest and abdomen, and the man deliberately trodden to death, the bamboo across the neck strangling him and forcing the eyes out of their sockets ! The headman of the village, as the responsible instigator of this awful case of Lynch law, was sentenced to death, and the men who did his bidding to “rigorous imprisonment.” Whether the sentences as pronounced were confirmed by the High Court or modified was not known when the particulars were narrated.
The first sentence of death passed by the same judge illustrates some other phases of native character and life. It is well-known that the people of India cling with determined tenacity to their ancestral homes and lands. A very large proportion of both civil and criminal cases in the Courts have to do with efforts to retain or recover the presumed rights in such matters. Often the disputes relate to questions of rent and privilege between zemindars (landowners) and their tenants, and become so violent as to lead to riot and fighting. Sometimes the quarrel is between one village with its punchayet (council of five, a system of communal rulership which the British Government is seeking to restore to its ancient importance and universality) and the nearest village.* In the present instance there had long been a dispute as to the proprietorship of a strip of land lying between the recognised boundaries of territory severally belonging to two neighbouring villages. Some circumstances had recently occurred to embitter the controversy, and party feeling on the question had become vehement. Alas! a little boy belonging to one of the villagers was seen by an old man and a young man of the other village on the plot of ground leading about a goat which was quietly nibbling the scant herbage to be found. The evidence as to the action of the young man was conflicting, and the judge, though believing the probabilities were against him, gave him the benefit of the doubt, but it was proved that the old man fetched a chopper for cutting wood, rushed upon the lad, and hacked his body to pieces! And here let me observe that I am given to understand that in our Courts in India technical objections and accidental flaws are not allowed to cause delay or miscarriage of justice, but that judges are expected to pronounce judgments according to the convictions reached by them after patient and unbiassed consideration of the facts before them as they appear in the light of common sense.
The reader will, I think, thank me for concluding this chapter of horrors with a story belonging
to my boyhood, which, while having some relation to the subject, and not without its lessons for the young, has certainly something serio-comic about it. I have spoken of my early familiarity with the scenes and proceedings of courts of justice. This familiarity became the means of terror to me for many memorable weeks. I have alluded to the “ Free School” and my companions of all races and religions. The master was a strict disciplinarian, and whatever we had to do we must do well, and be smartly caned on the hands or other orthodox region till we had satisfied him. Any talker or idler detected by him was summoned by the cane being thrown at him, and, to add to the mortification, he had to pick it up and carry to the master the instrument of his own punishment. One of the subjects of his instruction was the art of making goose quills into quill pens. Those were days when the manufacture of steel pens was in its infancy, and they were very imperfect and somewhat costly. , Unfortunately I was a miserable hand at this accomplishment, and it happened one afternoon that I had spoilt several quills and received many strokes, first on one hand and then on the other, for my clumsiness, or carelessness, or indolence-I do not know to which of the many bad qualities in me the master as cribed it-till at last I rushed to my seat in a furious passion, wildly tossing about my tingling hands, with a quill in one hand and an open penknife in the other. As I did this a Chinese boy moved from his class in my direction, and alas ! received into his cheek a thrust from the penknife. He shrieked like a madman, and ran into the middle of the school with the blood flowing down from the scar to the floor, and all eyes were turned on me as I stood aghast at what I had done. My name was put down in the punishment book. I said nothing about it at home. Punishments were settled, in imitation of the procedure of the neighbouring Court, by a jury of the senior boys of the school. When Saturday arrived six names were called out by the master, and the jury retired to a corner, and drew up an indictment, and sentenced the culprit. I was charged with passionately and cruelly wounding an unoffending schoolfellow, and sentenced to carry during school hours for a week an upright log of wood chained to the right or left ankle, with a ring at the top by which it was moved. The sentence was confirmed by the master, and I thus spent a week in shame and misery. But this was not all. The boy's father determined, Chinaman like, to get money out of his son's misfortune. He followed me to my home, and discovering me at play threatened me with all the terrors of the court house, too vividly known by me, and finding my father willing to buy my indemnity, continued to dog my steps and persecute me with his threats for weeks, driving me into hiding-places in our house and grounds, but cleverly managing to secure a harvest of coin from my kindhearted and apologetic parent.
Prof. Max Müller, in the article already referred to, remarks (p. 692), “ Take a man out of his village community, and you remove him from all the restraints of society. . . . Even between village and village the usual restraints of public morality are not always recognised. What would be called theft or robbery at home is called a successful raid or conquest if directed against a distant village, and what would be falsehood or trickery in private life is honoured by the name of policy and diplomacy if successful against strangers." See story in Lord Lawrence's Lífe, vol. i., p. 114, “The Disputed Boundary. Another story belonging to the subject of this chapter will be found on page 81, “The Widow and her Money-bags."