The English word "thug" is a truncation of 'thuggee'. It is one of many Indian words borrowed into English during the British colonial period. The English connotation of 'thug' is synonymous with terms like hoodlum and hooligan, indicating a person (or may or may not be anti-social) who harasses others, usually for hire. People regarded as thugs might commit assault (or 'menace'), battery, even robbery and grievous bodily harm, but they usually stop short of murder. Additionally, "thugs" usually travel in pairs, though they can work alone or in groups of four to six members, and are typically open about their presence (except to law enforcement officials); while "Thuggee" were covert and operated as members of a group, often called a "Thuggee cult" by the British. Hence, the word "Thuggee" is capitalised while the word "thug" usually is not; which enables distinction of a "Thug" (here, a short form of "Thuggee") from a "thug".
In the heyday of Thuggee activity, travellers were typically part of a caravan group, so the term Thuggee typically referred to killing of a large number of people in a single operation. This aspect distinguishes Thuggee from similar concept of Dacoity, which means simple armed robbery.
Dacoity has similarities with the terms brigand and bandit from European and Latin American experience, but there appear to be no exact Western parallels for Thuggee. Perhaps the closest concepts would be the format of piracy, though this is solely maritime robbery (usually with murder), and the earlier, but similar, format of raids on coastal settlements by Viking seafarers. Some aspects, however, are reminiscent of the Mafia group of organisations.
Between them, these classes of criminal activity illustrate some of the mystique that attached to the Thugs and the complex mixture of fear and dread of these murderous Alpha predators that was felt by the ordinary people who might well be their potential victims.
There is some question as to the extent of the religious dimension of Thuggee. Most contemporary sources described Thuggee as being a religious cult, but some modern sources feel it was merely a specialised form of organised crime or paramilitary activity, with no particular religious dimension beyond the normal piety of the villagers from whom its members were recruited.
60 mths ago