Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Critical Review of Thieves and Robbers in Mughal India: French Travelers’ and Adventurers' Prospective

Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Critical Review of Thieves and Robbers in Mughal India: French Travelers’ and Adventurers' Prospective

Article excerpt

French travelers' descriptions about India during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were an invaluable historical value to ascertain the Occident perception over Oriental world [Mughal India]. These French travelers and adventurers gave a fascinating insight as travelers's records about the commercial and mercantile avenues of India. They have also emphatically stressed upon the menace of the robbers and thieves to the French commercial operation in India. These warning were really important for the French agents, merchants, adventurers and other commercial officers who wanted to do successful business with safety in India. The objective of this article is to evaluate the narratives of these French voyagers in regard to these major threats from pirates, robbers, half-caste Portuguese, bils, koullys, mawatis, loutchas, malabaris and angrias to their commercial ventures. One will analyze different kinds of thieves and robbers who remained a constant problem and their means to lay robbery and theft in Indian subcontinent.

The highway between Delhi and Agra was not safe as it was filled with cunning robbers who used several methods to rob the travelers. Thevenot said "they use a certain slip with a running noose which they can cast with so much skill about a man's neck, when they are within reach of him, that they never fail, so that they strangle him in a trice.(Sen 1949: 58) Another cunning trick of the robbers was to place a beautiful women on the road who pretended to have been befallen out of some misfortune, and when the traveller, lured by her beauty, gives her lift which the women accepts and sits behind him on horseback but she choke his neck and strangles him or at least stun him. Tavernier mentions about the insecurity of the Indian routes and plundering bands watch for caravans in Deccan close to Ahmadabad where the robbers have named as Koullys. These Koullys are the peasantry of this part of the country and the greatest robbers, and altogether the most unprincipled people in the Indies. (Bernier 1994: 88-90) Then the robbers who lid hidden come running to attack the caravans. (Sen 1949: 58) Modave remarks on the insecurity of the roads which obliged men to group themselves in the army caravans, whenever they travel from one city to another. (Modave 1971: 167, 212). He also described about this race of koullys present in kingdom of Gujarat and they were famous for their armed robberies.

Modave also referred Bils as large robbers who were the saucars. "They are these Bils and Koulis who always give back the communication from Surat with dangerous and difficult Hindustan and who plundered frequently the caravans and assassinated travelers. The side of Narbeda are used as retreat in the first and are very specific to support their profession. They are covered with ravines of unbelievable depth and accesses of all parts are defended by mountains and rocks which make these passages extremely difficult. Bils strengthened mainly for the greatest safety of their armed robberies. They are enemy of all the travelers and hardly maintain relations with their neighbours. However, Marates who, for the safety of their possessions in Hindoustan, had a great interest to make sure the passages of Narbeda brought them to some composition and we found that one had curiously been exaggerated the danger to us". (Modave 1971: 503) It has been advisable to travel in a company of an escort which not only guarantee the safety but also adds prestige and credibility to traveler identity.

In addition, Modave referred to the dexterity of the robbers, where once his all things were stolen which were in his tent. These Indian robbers took not just many articles which were kept in tent but also his shoes which were left by the robbers at ten steps from the tent. (Modave 1971: 185) On several occasions Modave mentions the terror of robbers who sometimes comes in a group of cavalry consisted of twenty men and some infantrymen. …

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