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This article is an excerpt from
Castes and Tribes of Southern India
By Edgar Thurston, C.I.E.,
Superintendent, Madras Government Museum; Correspondant
Étranger, Société d’Anthropologie de Paris; Socio
Corrispondante, Societa,Romana di Anthropologia.
Assisted by K. Rangachari, M.A.,
of the Madras Government Museum.

Government Press, Madras


The Chapparbands are manufacturers of spurious coin, who hail from the Bombay Presidency, and are watched for by the police. It is noted, in the Police Report, 1904, that good work was done in Ganjam in tracing certain gangs of these coiners, and bringing them to conviction. For the following note I am indebted to a report by Mr. H. N. Alexander of the Bombay Police Department. The name Chapparband refers to their calling, chapa meaning an impression or stamp. “Among themselves they are known as Bhadoos, but in Hindustan, and among Thugs and cheats generally, they are known as Khoolsurrya, i.e., false coiners. While in their villages, they cultivate the fields, rear poultry and breed sheep, while the women make quilts, which the men sell while on their tours. But the real business of this class is to make and pass off false coin. Laying aside their ordinary Muhammadan dress, they assume the dress and appearance of fakirs of the Muddar section, Muddar being their Pir, and, unaccompanied by their women, wander from village to village. Marathi is their language, and, in addition, they have a peculiar slang of their own. Like all people of this class, they are superstitious, and will not proceed on an expedition unless a favourable omen is obtained. The following account is given, showing how the false coin is manufactured. A mould serves only once, a new one being required for every rupee or other coin.

It is made of unslaked lime and a kind of yellow earth called shedoo, finely powdered and sifted, and patiently kneaded with water to about the consistency of putty. One of the coins to be imitated is then pressed with some of the preparation, and covered over, and, being cut all round, is placed in some embers. After becoming hardened, it is carefully laid open with a knife, and, the coin being taken out, its impression remains. The upper and lower pieces are then joined together with a kind of gum, and, a small hole being made on one side, molten tin is poured in, and thus an imitation of the coin is obtained, and it only remains to rub it over with dirt to give it the appearance of old money. The tin is purchased in any bazaar, and the false money is prepared on the road as the gang travels along. Chapparbands adopt several ways of getting rid of their false coin. They enter shops and make purchases, showing true rupees in the first instance, and substituting false ones at the time of payment. They change false rupees for copper money, and also in exchange for good rupees of other currencies. Naturally, they look out for women and simple people, though the manner of passing off the base coin is clever, being done by sleight of hand. The false money is kept in pockets formed within the folds of their langutis (loin-cloths), and also hidden in the private parts.”

The following additional information concerning Chapparbands is contained in the Illustrated Criminal Investigation and Law Digest13:—“They travel generally in small gangs, and their women never follow them. They consult omens before leaving their villages. They [18]do not leave their villages dressed as fakirs. They generally visit some place far away from their residence, and there disguise themselves as Madari fakirs, adding Shah to their names. They also add the title Sahib, and imitate the Sawals, a sing-song begging tone of their class. Their leader, Khagda, is implicitly obeyed. He is the treasurer of the gangs, and keeps with him the instruments used in coining, and the necessary metal pieces. But the leader rarely keeps the coins with him. The duty of passing the false coins belongs to the Bhondars. A boy generally accompanies a gang. He is called Handiwal. He acts as a handy chokra (youngster), and also as a watch over the camp when the false coins are being prepared. They generally camp on high ground in close vicinity to water, which serves to receive the false coins and implements, should danger be apprehended.

When moving from one camp to another, the Khagda and his chokra travel alone, the former generally riding a small pony. The rest of the gang keep busy passing the coins in the neighbourhood, and eventually join the pair in the place pre-arranged. If the place be found inconvenient for their purpose, another is selected by the Khagda, but sufficient indication is given to the rest that the rendezvous might be found out. This is done by making a mark on the chief pathway leading to the place settled first, at a spot where another pathway leads from it in the direction he is going. The mark consists of a mud heap on the side of the road, a foot in length, six inches in breadth, and six in height, with an arrow mark pointing in the direction taken. The Khagda generally makes three of these marks at intervals of a hundred yards, to avoid the chance of any being effaced. Moulds are made of Multāni or some sticky clay. Gopichandan and badap [19]are also used. The clay, after being powdered and sifted, is mixed with a little water and oil, and well kneaded. The two halves of the mould are then roughly shaped with the hand, and a genuine coin is pressed between them, so as to obtain the obverse on one half and the reverse impression on the other.

The whole is then hardened in an extempore oven, and the hole to admit the metal is bored, so as to admit of its being poured in from the edge. The halves are then separated, and the genuine rupee is tilted out; the molten alloy of tin or pewter is poured in, and allowed to cool. According to the other method, badap clay brought from their own country is considered the most suitable for the moulds, though Multāni clay may be used when they run out of badap. Two discs are made from clay kneaded with water. These discs are then highly polished on the inner surface with the top of a jvari stalk called danthal. A rupee, slightly oiled, is then placed between the discs, which are firmly pressed over it. The whole is then thoroughly hardened in the fire. The alloy used in these moulds differs from that used in the others, and consists of an alloy of lead and copper. In both cases, the milling is done by the hand with a knife or a piece of shell. The Chapperbands select their victims carefully. They seem to be fairly clever judges of persons from their physiognomy. They easily find out the duffer and the gull in both sexes, and take care to avoid persons likely to prove too sharp for them. They give preference to women over men.

The commonest method is for the Bhondar to show a quantity of copper collected by him in his character of beggar, and ask for silver in its place. The dupe produces a rupee, which he looks at. He then shakes his head sadly, and hands back a counterfeit coin, saying that such coins are not current in his country, and moves on to try the same trick elsewhere. Their dexterity in changing the rupees is very great, the result of long practice when a Handiwal.”

Further information in connection with the Chapparbands has recently been published by Mr. M. Paupa Rao Naidu, from whose account14 the following extract is taken. “Chapperbands, as their name implies, are by profession builders of roofs, or, in a more general term, builders of huts. They are Sheikh Muhammadans, and originally belonged to the Punjab. During the Moghul invasion of the Carnatic, as far back as 1687–88, a large number of them followed the great Moghul army as builders of huts for the men. They appear to have followed the Moghul army to Aurangabad, Ahmednagar, and Seringapatam until the year 1714, when Bijapur passed into the hands of the Peshwas. The Chapperbands then formed part of the Peshwa’s army in the same capacity, and remained as such till the advent of the British in the year 1818, when it would appear a majority of them, finding their peculiar profession not much in demand, returned to the north. A part of those who remained behind passed into the Nizam’s territory, while a part settled down in the Province of Talikota.

A legendary tale, narrated before the Superintendent of Police, Raipur, in 1904, by an intelligent Chapperband, shows that they learnt this art of manufacturing coins during the Moghul period. He said ‘In the time of the Moghul Empire, Chapperbands settled in the Bijapur district. At that time, a fakir named Pir Bhai Pir Makhan lived in the same district. One of the Chapperbands went to this fakir, and asked him to intercede with God, in order that Chapperbands might be [21]directed to take up some profession or other. The fakir gave the man a rupee, and asked him to take it to his house quickly, and not to look backwards as he proceeded on his way. As the man ran home, some one called him, and he turned round to see who it was. When he reached his house, he found the rupee had turned into a false one. The man returned to the fakir, and complained that the rupee was a false one. The fakir was much enraged at the man’s account of having looked back as he ran, but afterwards said that Chapperbands would make a living in future by manufacturing false coins. Since that time, Chapperbands have become coiners of false money.’ On every Sunday, they collect all their false rupees, moulds, and other implements, and, placing these in front of them, they worship Pir Makhan, also called Pir Madar. They sacrifice a fowl to him, take out its eyes and tail, and fix them on three thorns of the trees bābul, bir, and thalmakana; and, after the worship is over, they throw them in the direction in which they intend to start.

The Chapperbands conceal a large number of rupees in the rectum, long misusage often forming a cavity capable of containing ten to twenty rupees. So also cavities are formed in the mouth below the tongue.” In a case recorded by Mr. M. Kennedy, “when a Chapperband was arrested on suspicion, on his person being examined by the Civil Surgeon, no less than seven rupees were found concealed in a cavity in his rectum. The Civil Surgeon was of opinion that it must have taken some considerable time to form such a cavity.” A similar case came before the Sessions Judge in South Canara a few years ago. [22] The following case of swindling, which occurred in the Tanjore district, is recorded in the Police Report, 1903. “A gang of Muhammadans professed to be able to duplicate currency notes.

The method was to place a note with some blank sheets of paper between two pieces of glass. The whole was then tied round with string and cloth, and smoked over a fire. On opening the packet, two notes were found, a second genuine one having been surreptitiously introduced. The success of the first operations with small notes soon attracted clients, some of them wealthy; and, when the bait had had time to work, and some very large notes had been submitted for operation, the swindlers declared that these large notes took longer to duplicate, and that the packet must not be opened for several days. Before the time appointed for opening, they disappeared, and the notes were naturally not found in the packets. One gentleman was fleeced in this way to the value of Rs. 4,600.” The administration of an enema to a false coiner will sometimes bring to light hidden treasure.

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