Remember the word ‘thug’? Well, none of us shall be a stranger to the disgust this word revokes. The word is synonymous with the ‘notorious dacoits’ of the medieval India who were finally eliminated by the ‘benevolent Britishers’ in the early 19th century. Ever since, the word thug has been synonymous with crooks, ruffians etc., a word most Indians use in their vocabulary even today.
However, if a coin has two sides, so do the thugs, don’t they? After a recent video by a YouTube video analyst, who goes by the handle FMF, one is compelled to think about the other side to this tale as well. Were thugs really that murderous and horrifying, as painted by the British Empire? Or were they just simple forest dwellers, who were massacred and vilified by the British, just because they tried to resist their tyranny and encroachment?
For those unknown, Thuggee was apparently a cult that was prevalent in northern and central India from the late 16th century, until the mid 19th century. Under the Thuggee cult, robbers disguised themselves as traveling guides and accompanied the travelers, and under the guise of darkness, strangulated them to death with a knotted handkerchief, invoking the name of ‘Goddess Kaali’, and ran away with whatever the riches the travelers had.
However, isn’t there a catch to it? There is, for none of the tales were ever told by the natives, nor there were any authentic accounts that certified that what was told about the thugs was actually true. These accounts were written by British imperialists, in order to portray thugs as uncivilized barbarians who deserved to be dealt with in the harshest way possible.
It is also evident in countless books written on this topic, told only from the British point of view. This concept of vilifying the victims while painting the oppressors as innocent is what is called ‘atrocity literature’, of which the Indian thuggee clan members have been the biggest victim.
But what was their crime? The thugs were mostly innocent forest tribes in the region mentioned, who were deeply devoted to their environment. When the British encroached the forests, they resisted, like a natural tribe. Due to lack of advanced weapons and technology, the British prevailed, and horribly. None was spared, not even infants. Let that sink in, not even infants. Long before the Indian intellectuals of today, it was the British who showed a deep contempt for the native Indians and their customs.
To justify the massacre, the British implemented the Criminal Tribes Act in 1871, which deemed the massacre of such innocent tribes as legal. Every member of the tribe was deemed criminal, even newborn infants to be precise. They also funded a host of scholars to vilify this tribe as much as possible, such as Phillip Meadows Taylor, who wrote the atrocious novel ‘Confessions of a Thug’. Never was Malcolm X’s quote about the oppressors as apt as in this situation.
Even Jules Verne, the world famous French writer and traveler, couldn’t escape this vicious cycle, as he initially misrepresented the Indians in his famous novel ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’. Later on he made amends for that, being of the few European writers who wrote positively about Indians and their culture, especially with his portrayal of the enigmatic engineer cum rebel, Captain Nemo.
So why are we talking about this now? It is because Vijay Krishna Acharya, famous for Dhoom 3, is back with Thugs of Hindostan, starring Aamir Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Fatima Sana Shaikh etc. in lead roles. Though Bollywood is notorious for misrepresenting Indian history, we do hope that this film tells the real story and the clan notorious as thugs shall be redeemed.
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