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The Koeri (or Koiry or Koiri) are an Indian caste, found largely in Bihar, whose traditional occupation was as cultivators. They were described in 1896 by Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya as "differ[ing] in nothing" from the agricultural Kurmi caste, other than the Kurmi produce agricultural staples, while the Koeri specialise in kitchen gardening." An official report of 1941 admired them as being the "most advanced" cultivators in Bihar and said that "Simple in habits, thrifty to a degree and a master in the art of market-gardening, the Koeri is amongst the best of the tillers of the soil to be found anywhere in India."
In the vicinity of the large towns in Northern India, during the time when Bhattacharya was writing, the Koeris raised the fruits and kitchen vegetables required for local consumption. They took part also in rearing tobacco, opium, and other agricultural stuffs requiring more care and skill than the staple crops. They never served in a menial capacity.
The community was at the heart of the Indian opium trade, which had its main base in Bihar and for many years was regulated and exploited by the British East India Company via an agency in Patna. Carl Trocki believes that "Opium cultivators were not free agents" and describes the coercion and financial arrangements that were involved in order to achieve production, which included restricting land to that product even when grain was needed due to famine. Although profitable to the Company, it was often not so for the peasant producer, and
Only one particular caste, the Koeris, managed to carry on the cultivation with some degree of efficiency. They were able to do this because they could employ their wives and children to help out with the tasks of opium production."
Other groups involved in opium production had to hire labour but the Koeris cut costs by utilising that available within their own family.
In 1896 the Koeri population was estimated as being nearly 1.75 million. They were very numerous in Bihar, and were found also in the Northwestern Provinces. Between 1872 and 1921 they represented approximately 7% of the population in Saran district, according to tabulated data prepared by Anand Yang in which they are categorised as "Upper Shudra", along with the Kurmis and Ahirs. Yang also notes their involvement in tenanted landholdings around the period 1893–1901: the Koeris worked around 9% of the total cultivated area of the district, which was 1% less than the Ahirs, although the latter represented around 5% more of the population.
The Koeri Panchayat Hitakarni Samiti, a caste association, was formed in 1927 to look after the socio-economic interests of the community. Around this time, which coincided with a general movement among various castes to seek upliftment of their status, there was also at least one journal being published for the Koeri community, the Kashbala Kshatriya Mitra.
In 1896, during the British Raj period, Bhattacharya noted that "the Shudra Yajaka Brahmans of all classes minister to the Koeris as priests. The majority of the Koeris were Saivites and Saktas, and there are not many Vaishnavas among them. They are regarded as a clean Shudra caste, and the Brahmans will take drinking water from their hands without any hesitation. The Koeris will eat both kachi and pakki food cooked by a Brahman; but will not eat the leavings of a Brahman's plate as the Shastras inculcate the Shudras to do, and is practically done by many of the better Shudra clans."
- Bhattacharya, Jogendra Nath (1896). Hindu castes and sects: an exposition of the origin of the Hindu caste system and the bearing of the sects towards each other and towards other religious systems. Thacker, Spink. pp. 274–275. Retrieved 2011-06-17.
- Jaffrelot, Christophe (2003). India's silent revolution: the rise of the lower castes in North India. London: C. Hurst & Co. p. 197. ISBN 978-1-85065-670-8. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
- Trocki, Carl A. (1999). Opium, empire and the global political economy: a study of the Asian opium trade, 1750–1950. Routledge. pp. 64–67. ISBN 978-0-415-19918-6. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
- Yang, Anand A. (1989). The limited Raj: agrarian relations in colonial India, Saran District, 1793–1920. University of California Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-520-05711-1. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
- Gould, William (2004). Hindu nationalism and the language of politics in late colonial India. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-521-83061-4. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
- Hasan, A.; Das, J. C. (eds.). People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII Part Two. Manohar Publications. p. 828.