Dacoity is a term used for "banditry" in the Indian subcontinent. The spelling is the anglicised version of the Hindustani word daaku; "dacoit" is a colloquial Indian English word with this meaning and it appears in the (1903). Banditry is criminal activity involving robbery by groups of armed bandits. The East India Company established the Thuggee and Dacoity Department in 1830, and the Thuggee and Dacoity Suppression Acts, 1836–1848 were enacted in British India under East India Company rule. Areas with ravines or forests, such as Chambal and Chilapata Forests, were once known for dacoits.
The dacoity have had a large impact in the Morena and Chambal regions in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in north-central India. The exact reasons for the emergence of dacoity in the Chambal valley has been disputed. Most explanations have simply suggested feudal exploitation as the cause that provoked many people of this region to take to arms. The area was also underdeveloped and poor, so that banditry posed great economic incentives. However, the fact that many gangs operating in this valley were composed of higher castes and wealthy people appears to suggest that feudalism may only be a partial explanation of dacoity in Chambal valley (Bhaduri, 1972; Khan, 1981; Jatar, 1980; Katare, 1972). Furthermore, traditional honor codes and blood feuds would drive some into criminality.
In Chambal,India, organized crime controlled much of the countryside from the time of the British Raj up to the early 2000s, with the police offering high rewards for the most notorious bandit chiefs. The criminals regularly targeted local businesses, though they preferred to kidnap wealthy people, and demand ransom from their relatives - cutting off fingers, noses, and ears to pressure them into paying high sums. Many dacoity also posed as social bandits toward the local poor, paying medical bills and funding weddings. One ex-dacoit described his own criminal past by claiming that "I was a rebel. I fought injustice." Following intense anti-banditry campaigns by the Indian Police, highway robbery was almost completely eradicated in the early 2000s. Nevertheless, Chambal is still popularly believed to be unsafe and bandit-infested by many Indians. One police officer noted that the fading of the dacoity was also due to social changes, as few young people were any longer willing to endure the harsh life as highway robber in the countryside. Instead, they prefer to join crime groups in the city, where life is easier.
Dacoits existed in Burma as well – Rudyard Kipling's fictional Private Mulvaney hunted Burmese dacoits in "The Taking of Lungtungpen". Sax Rohmer's criminal mastermind Dr. Fu Manchu also employed Burmese dacoits as his henchmen.
Indian police forces use "Known Dacoit" (K.D.) as a label to classify criminals.
In Madhya Pradesh, women belonging to a village defence group have been issued firearm permits to fend off dacoity. The Chief minister of the state, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, recognised the role the women had played in defending their villages without guns. He stated that he wanted to enable these women to better defend both themselves and their villages, and issued the gun permits to advance this goal.
As the dacoits flourished through the 1940s–1970s, they were the subject of various Hindi films made during this era, leading to the emergence of the dacoit film genre in Bollywood. The genre began with Mehboob Khan's Aurat (1940), which he remade as Mother India (1957). Mother India received an Academy Award nomination, and defined the dacoit film genre, along with Dilip Kumar's Gunga Jumna (1961). Other popular films in this genre included Raj Kapoor’s Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1961) and Moni Bhattacharjee's Mujhe Jeene Do (1963).
Pakistani actor Akmal Khan had two dacoit films, Malangi (1965) and Imam Din Gohavia (1967). Other films in this genre included Khote Sikkay (1973), Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971), and Kuchhe Dhaage (1973) both by Raj Khosla.
The most famous dacoit film is Sholay (1975), written by Salim–Javed, and starring Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, and Amjad Khan as the dacoit character Gabbar Singh. It was a masala film that combined the dacoit film conventions of Mother India and Gunga Jumna with that of Spaghetti Westerns, spawning the "Dacoit Western" genre, also known as the "Curry Western" genre. The film also borrowed elements from Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Sholay became a classic in the genre, and its success led to a surge of films in this genre, including Ganga Ki Saugandh (1978), once again starring Amitabh Bachchan and Amjad Khan.
An internationally acclaimed example of the genre is Bandit Queen (1994).
The Tamil movie starring Karthi, Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru (2017) deals elaborately with bandits. The film reveals the real dacoity incidents which held in Tamil Nadu between 1995 and 2005. Director Vinoth did a two-year research about bandits to develop the script.
Dacoits armed with pistols and swords appear in Age of Empires III: Asian Dynasties.