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Thug: The True Story of India's Murderous Cult
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Manufacturer: Granta Books
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Binding: Hardcover
Dewey Decimal Number: 950
EAN: 9781862076044
ISBN: 1862076049
Label: Granta Books
Manufacturer: Granta Books
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 356
Publication Date: 2005-01
Publisher: Granta Books
Studio: Granta Books

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Editorial Reviews:

Never in recorded history has there been a group of murderers as deadly as the Thugs. For nearly two centuries, groups of these lethal criminals haunted the roads of India, slaughtering travellers whom they met along the way with such efficiency that over the years tens of thousands of men, women and children simply vanished without trace. Mike Dash, one of our best popular historians, has devoted years to combing archives in both India and Britain to discover how the Thugs lived and worked. Painstakingly researched and grippingly written. Thug tells, for the first time the full story of the Thugs' rise and fall from its beginnings in the late seventeenth century to its eventual demise at the hands of British officer William Sleeman, in 1840.

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Summary: Dispelling a Cult, Dispelling the Legends
Comment: If you refer to a person as a thug, you mean some miscreant who uses violence against others for criminal ends. If you know a little bit of history, you know that the word comes from the devotees of the Thugee system of early nineteenth century India, where the murderers killed in a celebration of religious conviction, sometimes 50,000 victims a year sacrificed to a Hindu god of chaos. That shows what a little learning will get you; it's almost all exaggerated. The Thugs, however, were a real band of murderers, and the history of their crimes and the successful British effort to end them is a fascinating story told by Mike Dash in _Thug: The True Story of India's Murderous Cult_ (Granta Books). Dash seems to fasten on to a bit of history and research it to its depths, as he did in the shipwreck story _Batavia's Graveyard_ or the history of the Dutch tulip craze _Tulipomania_. Published in Britain in 2005, Thug inexcusably was never printed in America, a real shame since it has a vivid history of an extreme crime wave and a heroic figure who was able to see the problem and force innovative ways to shut down the cult completely.

Thugs were basically highway robbers, but extreme ones. They were both Muslims and Hindus. They passed Thugee practice to generations of families, but also worked in ad hoc gangs. The gangs were well organized with tasks assigned to specialists, with the most respected member of the gang being the strangler, a man who had to be an expert in the use of the "rumal", the scarf that could be worn as an unremarkable garment but which could be turned instantly into a strangling cloth. The competent strangler was fast and silent, and complete; among the reasons that the Thugs were so successful is that they never stopped at mere robbery but they killed all their victims and potential witnesses. Dash calls the cult an "industry of death," and for years it was a growth industry, efficiently parting wealthy travelers (as well as ordinary ones) from their valuables and their lives. The gang was not, however, practicing a religious devotion or sacrificing victims to Kali as much as it was adding religious trappings to what was simply robbing victims of their treasures and lives. The British investigative and legal system was eventually spurred into concentrated action against the Thugs by a Cornishman named William Sleeman, who served in his Indian district and gradually realized that the roads for which he had responsibility were secret graveyards, as were those in other regions. Sleeman took unprecedented actions against the menace, keeping superb records and nursing informers.

The myth that the Thugs were making sacrifices to their goddess has been supplanted by others, perhaps connected with guilt over the legacy of British rule in the region. Sleeman did impose British authority rather than native practice, and rationality rather than superstition, which some observers have found chauvinistic. Thugee has been regarded as just a myth dreamed up to help rationalize British oppression, and the racist oppressors were held as only intent on wiping out native customs. Dash dispels these myths, too. Sleeman was a principled public servant whose efforts worked. It is not surprising that some prosecutions might have had racial motives nor that the legal processes and degrees of punishment are not up to our current standards. The Thugs for generations had perpetrated shockingly brutal and inhumane crimes, crimes completely eradicated by novel police work. Dash provides plenty of local color and a good pace for what is a fine story of a triumph over evil.

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