The Cult of the Thug: From Ancient India to Modern America

Independent documentary filmmaker and Detroit native Al Profit discusses how an ancient cult in India known as the Thuggee continues to inspire fear today. The word “thug” is a word used by celebrities, pop stars and rappers to promote their own self image (such as TuPac coining “thug life”) along with being a word identified with the criminal element in society. But what about the original thug?

From Al Profit’s website:

An Arab traveler writing about his visit to India first used the word in the year 1356, but Europeans first heard the word in the 1700’s as the British began to conquer India. By the 1830’s English control of the sub-continent was almost complete, but as they began to actually try and govern India, they realized they had a major problem: thousands of people were disappearing along the roads of the country, never to be seen again. They were victims of the Thugs.

Some time in the 1930s, American Hollywood movies picked up the word “thug.” Despite the origins of the Thug cult escaping the common knowledge of most people, the word continues to symbolize violent brutes today.

But where you can really see the connection between the Thugs of ancient India and modern America is in the use of the word as a scare tactic, a tool of social control on specific elements of the population. Take pro football player Richard Sherman, a guy that gets paid millions of dollars to slam his body into other people on the Sunday, which is supposedly the Lord’s day, but when he get a little too excited on national television, when he didn’t play the role of the humble black athlete who thanks God for his ballgame victory, the public and the media exploded, calling him lots of names, but mostly they called him a Thug.

Al Profit

The word thug has been referred to as “The N-Word by any other name.” Or take for example the 2012 incident of a Florida man (of course it’s Florida) saying “I hate that thug music” to his girlfriend before shooting a black teen at a gas station.

Then there is the celebrities that try to sell their image through use of the word thug. Al Profit writes:

Now Tupac himself was killed in Las Vegas after he and a large group of men stomped out a Crip gang member, but “Thug Life” lives on in pop-culture today. Take, for example, Atlanta rapper “Young Thug”….Young Thug’s elaborate clothing is actually somewhat reminiscent of the original Indian Thugs, which actually makes him more Thuggish than Tupac himself in my book.