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Koli people

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कोली, કોલી, कोळी
A portrait of a Koli chieftain of Dahewan by James Forbes, 1813
Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bhil, Kachi Koli, Konkani, Kannada
Hindu, Muslim, Christian
Related ethnic groups
Kori, Koli Christians

The Koli is an agriculturist caste of India. Koli is an Agriculturist caste mostly found in Gujarat. At the beginning of 20th century, the Koli caste was recognised as a criminal tribe under Criminal Tribes Act by British Indian government because of their anti-social activities but during the World War I, Kolis were recognised as a Martial caste by British Indian Empire. Kolis of Gujarat were well-known pirates of Arabian Sea.[1]

The Koli caste forms the largest caste cluster in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, comprising 24% and 30% of the total population in those states respectively.[2][3]


  • India, The Kolis are distributed all over. The Kolis are mostly found in the Indian states of Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra. Kolis are 24% of the total state population in Gujarat[4] and 30% in Himachal Pradesh.[5]
  • Pakistan, The Kolis are found in the Sindh province of Pakistan. Most of them are in relationship with Kolis of Gujarat.[6]
  • Penang Island, The Kolis also found in the Penang Island (Prince of Wales Island). They were sent by British Indian government because of their rebellious activities against british East India Company during Indian Rebellion of 1857.[7]
  • In Fiji and New Zealand, Kolis are agriculturists by profession and use the surname of Patel.[8]
  • Nepal, Kolis of Nepal ruled over Ramgram, Devdaha and Panditpur.[9]
  • East Africa, Kolis of Gujarat migrated to East Africa and living there. In East Africa, Kolis called themselves as Mandhata Patel, Mandhata Koli Patel and Koli Patel and many of them are busyness person, teachers and doctors.[10]



A Koli woman

The Patidars of Central and North Gujarat were agricultural labour on the lands of Koli landlords or Koli chieftains but after Independence of India, Patidars enchraoched the lands of Kolis through land ceiling act of Independent India and reduced the Kolis in social status.[11] after that, Kolis thought that they ruled the area but have no rights, so Kolis often plunders the Patidar villages in midnight in gangs.[12] The Rajputs of Gujarat strongly allied with Kolis because Rajputs also were against Patidars because of their land rights.[13] In central and north Gujarat, the Kolis had several battles with the Patidars on the issue of land tenancy, land rights and use of common village resources. It may be mentioned here that to win the elections in 1962 and 1967 the Gujarat Swatantra Party, dominated by the Patidars, won over some of the Koli leaders of the Gujarat Kshatriya Sabha and Sabha was dominated by Kolis of North Gujarat . The Party evolved a strategy referred to by the acronym PKASH; that is the 'party of Patidars and Koli Kshatriyas.' Party nominated a large number of the Kolis as party candidates and also gave them positions within the party organization. But that alliance did not last. The party and the Kshatriya Sabha's Koli leaders could not resolve ground-level conflicts between the Koli peasants and well Patidar peasants.[14] The grievances of Patidar were resolved by Gujarat Kshatriya Sabha by several time meetings but it was not enough because Kolis were double in number of population if Gujarat and Patidars often targeted by influenced Kolis.[15] most of the Patidar's children were engaged in collage study but Kolis not and it was a big beneficial point of Patidars.[16][17]

Some of the Bhil chief's of early medieval Ahmedabad claim the status of Kolis in the medieval period. The Kolis of Gujarat being a part of the agricultural population, the Kolis might have included some other social groups claiming agriculturist status. The Kolis were not good cultivators in the medieval period and are not described as an economically homogeneous caste at the end of the nineteenth century. The character of the Kolis, as agriculturists, varies much in different parts of the Gujarat. Crimes of violence are occasionally committed among Kolis they were known as outlaw. but, as a warrior caste, they have settled down in the position of peaceful husbandmen marked contrast to their lawless practices fifty years ago. The Kolis of medieval Gujarat too figure in medieval source more as lawless elements than as peaceful producers. Raja Vikramajit, Shahjahan's governor of Gujarat, had to conduct an expedition in 1622 against Jagirdar Kolis in north of Ahmedabad who had been for generations a terror to travellers. Between 1662 and 1668, a Baluchi adventurer impersonating the late Dara Shikoh successfully gathered around himself a large number of the Kolis of Viramgam and Chunwal. The Mughal commander Mohabat Khan had to march out to drive him away and take control of the Kolis. Records of the East India Company mention that the Ahmedabad route to Surat was particularly dangerous because of the constant irruption of brigands, robbers, piracy and highwaymen Kolis. In fact, in 1644, some Kolis attacked a caravan between Ahmedabad and Broach, Kolis armed with bows and arrows and muskets attacked Fidauddin Khan's forces in the mid-eighteenth century; the Kolis also launched guerrilla attacks on Gaikwad forces. But it is significant that the eighteenth-century Kolis of Gujarat refused to accept the Bhils as a Koli, Alexander K. Forbes, writing on the Kolis and the Bhils of Mahikantha in the period of the Gaikwads, mentions that tribal bhils were trying to be in Koli status. The above point indicates that the status of "Koli' had become a respectable one for those tribal groups in Gujarat who sought to distinguish themselves from the larger mass of their kinsmen. The Kolis seem to have attained an important socio political status by the fourteenth century, at least on Konkan coast in Maharashtra. A Koli kingdom is known to have been founded by Jayba Popera in North Konkan in 1342. The chief of the celebrated Janjira fort was a Koli named Ram Patil in the time of Shivaji, Kolis had served the Maratha army under their Koli commanders Yesaji Kank and Tanaji Malusare since the time of Shivaji and exercised considerable control over the Konkan coast. The Bahmanis conferred the rank of Sardar on Koli chiefs who held charge of hill tracts. In contrast, we have noted that the Kolis of Gujarat were mostly perceived as a predatory tribe. From the way they are described in the literature of the medieval period and in travellers accounts, we suspect that some descendants of medieval Bhil chiefs, particularly those of Ahmedabad, could have claimed the status of Koli.[18]

Records of Koli people exist from at least the 15th century, when rulers in the present-day Gujarat region called their chieftains marauding robbers, dacoits, and pirates. Over a period of several centuries, some of them were able to establish petty chiefdoms throughout the region, mostly comprising just a single village.[19] Although not Rajputs, this relatively small subset of the Kolis claimed the status of the higher-ranked Rajput community, adopting their customs and intermixing with less significant Rajput families through the practice of hypergamous marriage,[20][21] which was commonly used to enhance or secure social status.[22] There were significant differences in status throughout the Koli community, however, and little cohesion either geographically or in terms of communal norms, such as the establishment of endogamous marriage groups.[23]

Koli woman and Koli man with the Bow and Arrow, 19th century

Through the colonial British Raj period and into the 20th century, some Kolis remained significant landholders and tenants,[21] although most had never been more than minor landowners and labourers.[23] By this time, however, most Kolis had lost their once-equal standing with the Patidar[a] community due to the land reforms of the Raj period.[24] The Kolis preferred the landlord-based tenure system, which was not so mutually beneficial. They were subject to interference from the British revenue collectors, who intervened to ensure that the stipulated revenue was remitted to the government before any surplus went to the landlord.[25] Being less inclined to take an active role in agriculture personally and thus maximise revenues from their landholdings, the Koli possessions were often left uncultivated or underused. These lands were gradually taken over by Kanbi cultivators, while the Kolis became classified as a criminal tribe due to their failure to meet the revenue demands and their tendency to raid Kanbi villages to survive. The Kanbi land takeovers also reduced the Kolis to being the tenants and agricultural labourers of Kanbis rather than landowners, thus increasing the economic inequality between the communities. The difference was further exacerbated by the Kanbis' providing better tenancy arrangements for members of their own community than for Kolis.[26]

Twentieth century

A Thakarda Koli from Baroda State in 1911.

During the later period of the Raj, the Gujarati Kolis became involved in the process of what has subsequently been termed sanskritisation. At that time, in the 1930s, they represented around 20 percent of the region's population and members of the local Rajput community were seeking to extend their own influence by co-opting other significant groups as claimants to the ritual title of Kshatriya. The Rajputs were politically, economically and socially marginalised because their own numbers — around 4 – 5 per cent of the population — were inferior to the dominant Patidars, with whom the Kolis were also disenchanted. The Kolis were among those whom the Rajputs targeted because, although classified as a criminal tribe by the British administration, they were among the many communities of that period who had made genealogical claims of descent from the Kshatriya. The Rajput leaders preferred to view the Kolis as being Kshatriya by dint of military ethos rather than origin but, in whatever terminology, it was a marriage of political expedience.[21]

In 1947, around the time that India gained independence, the Kutch, Kathiawar, Gujarat Kshatriya Sabha (KKGKS) caste association emerged as an umbrella organisation to continue the work begun during the Raj. Christophe Jaffrelot, a French political scientist, says that this body, which claimed to represent the Rajputs and Kolis, "... is a good example of the way castes, with very different ritual status, join hands to defend their common interests. ... The use of the word Kshatriya was largely tactical and the original caste identity was seriously diluted."[21]

The relevance of the Kshatriya label in terms of ritual was diminished by the practical actions of the KKGKS which, among other things, saw demands for the constituent communities to be classified as Backward Classes in the Indian scheme for positive discrimination. Kshatriyas would not usually wish to be associated with such a category and indeed it runs counter to the theory of Sanskritisation, but in this instance, it suited the socio-economic and political desires. By the 1950s, the KKGKS had established schools, loan systems and other mechanisms of communal self-help and it was demanding reforms to laws relating to land. It was also seeking alliances with political parties at the state level; initially, with the Indian National Congress and then, by the early 1960s, with the Swatantra Party. By 1967, the KKGKS was once again working with Congress because, despite being a haven for Patidars, the party leadership needed the votes of the KKGKS membership. The Kolis gained more from the actions of the KKGKS in these two decades than did the Rajputs, and Jaffrelot believes that it was around this time that a Koli intelligentsia emerged.[21] Ghanshyam Shah, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, describes the organisation today as covering a broad group of communities, from disadvantaged Rajputs of high prestige to the semi-tribal Bhils, with the Kolis in the middle. He notes that its composition reflects "a common economic interest and a growing secular identity born partly out of folklore but more out of common resentment against the well-to-do castes".[27]

The Kolis of Gujarat remained educationally and occupationally disadvantaged compared to communities such as the Brahmins and Patidars.[28] Their many Jātis include the Bareeya, Khant and Thakor, and they also use Koli as a suffix, giving rise to groups such as the Gulam Koli and Matia Koli. Some do not refer to themselves as Koli at all.[2]

Kolis of Bandra during Republic day parade performing Koli Dance


The Shial, or Shiyal is a clan of Koli caste found in the Indian state of Gujarat. They were noted pirates of Gujarat.[29] The Shial Kolis got their name from the Shial island situated at south coast of Kathiawar.[30] Shial Kolis defeated and captured the Shial island from Portuguese India and made it their stronghold along with Chanch, Gujarat but later they were defeated by Nawab of Janjira and Jafrabad.[31] during the World War I, they were enlisted as soldiers in British Indian Army by British Indian government.[32]

Koli pirates

A largest number of Kolis lives in Gujarat and Kathiawar of Gujarat has always been famous for its Koli Piracy. In times of unsettled British government, the coasts of Kathiawar have swarmed with Koli pirates, who, from the shelter of every creek and headland, took toll on all merchandise Ships that was carried on the Arabian Sea. Along the southern coast the leading pirates were Shial Koli, Baria Kolis, while, in the Gulf of Cutch and near Dwarka and Porbandar, from an early date, Other Kolis made their names a terror to merchants.[33][34]

Ghogha and Piram Islands

In 1326, Ghogha and Piram Islands of Gujarat was stronghold of Koli pirates and they often lavied or attacked the ships of traders passed by nearby sea. But Koli pirates were defeated by the Mokhadaji. Later in 1340, Mokhadaji was defeated by Sultan Mohammad Bin Tughluq of Delhi Sultanate and Koli pirates raised again and captured a English ship named "’Morning Star"’ of big cost and loaded with cargo.[35][36]

Shial bet Island

In 1531, Koli pirates of Shial island of South coast of Kathiawar in Gujarat captured the Shial island from Portuguese India and defeated the Portuguese Indian Navy. After that Chanch also became the stronghold of Koli pirates.[37][38]


In 1734, The Kolis infested the Coastle of Gujarat. from their stronghold at Sultanpur, on the river Kurla in Kathiawar, they gave much trouble British ships. They were egged on to continue their infamous activities owing to the patronage extended to them by some wealthy Kolis who shared their plunder. The British government despatched British Indian Navy under captain Radford Nunn and captain Daniel Inchbird and he captured 5 of their armed vessels and burnt 14 more. To save others from a similar fate, Nunn burnt nearly 50 small ships of Koli pirates. About six months later, 10 more of their boats were set on fire and these measures silenced them for some time. A letter from the Bombay Castle diary, dated Sunday, the 21st January, 1739, reveals that the Kolis had captured several vessels among which was the "’Tiger Gallivet"’ (returning from Persia) in whose seizure the Kolis were chief pirates. A few years later in 1749, their renewed activities came to light once more, when they captured a "’Bengal Ship"’ carrying rupees 60,000 cash and a Cargo worth an equivalent amount. To combat against Koli pirates, the Dutch India, joining hands with the British India in Surat. in December, 1750, both navy forced illegal activites of Koli pirates on the Kurla river. In this campaign, 23 of vessels were captured and this attack again compelled the Kolis to be inactive for a longer period.[39][40]


The Talaja coast in Bhavnagar State was infested by the Koli pirates of Kathiawad of Gujarat. They captured the trading ships of Britishers and Bhavnagar State. The British Navy with the help of Bhavnagar ruler Akherajji attacked and defeated the Koli pirates in 1771. But after death of Akherajji, Kolis again started collecting the tax from ships and captured two British and one Bhavnagar ship. In 1807, Wakhatsinji Akherajji Gohil join hands with British government to suppress the Koli piracy under "’Walker Settlement"’ treaty for peace in Saurashtra ocean and again defeated the Koli pirates and congrats by Bombay government for his dare against Kolis.[41][42]


Maratha Empire

The Kolis of Maharashtra,[43] joined the Maratha Army during the reign of Chhatrapati Shivaji of Maratha Empire.[44] the Kolis also served in the Maratha navy of Shivaji[45] and grand admiral of Maratha Navy was manned by Koli chieftain Kanhoji Angre who was knowns as Shivaji of Sea[46] and the army warriors were manned by Koli commander Tanaji Malusare.[47] the Kolis formed the important Mavala army of Shivaji at Shivneri Fort in Junnar.[48] A Koli chief named Laya Patil who was fleet chief in Maratha navy was honoured by Shivaji with the title of Sarpatil for his courageous attack at Janjira.[49] In 1665, under Shivaji, The Koli soldiers played an important role on the fort of Purandar fort during the siege of Diler Khan.[50] When Shivaji began his revolt against Muslim sultanates, the Kolis were among the first to join him under the leadership of the Khemirao Sarnaik and they played a leading role in Swarajya.[51]

Deccan Sultanate

The Kolis of Maharashtra, served in the Deccan sultanates, the Kolis served in Bahmani sultanate as fortkeepers and the Sultans of Bahamani sultanate respected the Koli officers with tye title of Sardar[52] and the Ahmednagar sultanate conferred the good positions for Kolis such as Sardar and Mansabdar.[53]

Gujarat Sultanate

The Kolis of Gujarat served in the royal army of Gujarat Sultanate during the reign of Bahadur Shah[54] and Kolis attacked the Mughal Sultan Humayun in the defence of Gujarat sultan Bahadur Shah and looted the Mughal army of Humayun at the Gulf of Khambhat.[55][56]

British Indian Empire

During the 1857 mutiny, The Deccan Koli Corps was formed under Captain Nuttall and Kolis proved very useful and serviceable.[57] Every time they met an enemy, they showed the same dashing and persevering courage. When the regular troops were withdrawn in 1860, their places were taken by detachments of Koli corps. The Koli corps continued to perform this duty till 1861. when they were disbanded and some of them entered in police service.[58][59] Like the Deccan Koli Corps of Maharashtra, Gujarat Koli Corps[60] (Ahmedabad Koli Corps) was formed in Gujarat to subdue the rebellions.[61] The Gujerat Koli Corps was honoured with the Mutiny Medal for exploiting courage of Koli soldiers by Governor of Bombay Lord Elphinstone.[62] During the First World War, Kolis of Himachal Pradesh were recruited in the British Indian Army[63][64] and Kolis of Punjab were enlisted in British infantry troops.[65]

The British Indian Navy, or Bombay Navy was manned or controlled by the Kolis of Mumbai during the British Raj in India.[66]

Portuguese India

The Kolis of Maharashtra served manned the Portuguese Indian navy. Kolis were most important for Portuguese Indian king because in wartime, Kolis often fought with their own boat and gallivats. Portuguese Indian king was not in good condition but he built two warships specially for Kolis to fight against pirates and other Marine power.[67]

Princely States

The Princely State of Baroda enlisted eight to ten thousands of Koli soldiers in his army.[68]

The Kotwals of the royal palace of Bhavnagar, Morvi and Rajkot princely states were Talpada Kolis of Radhavanaj village of Kheda district.[69]


The Koli community classified as Other Backward Class by Government of India in the Indian States of Gujarat,[70] Karnataka,[71] Maharashtra[72] and Uttar Pradesh,[73] but Tokre Koli, Malhar Koli and Mahadev Kolis are listed as Scheduled Tribe by State Government of Maharashtra.[74]

The Government of India classified the Koli community as Scheduled Caste in the 2001 census for the states of Delhi,[75] Madhya Pradesh[76] and Rajasthan.[77]

Criminal Tribes Act

The Koli caste of Maharashtra and Gujarat was classified as a Criminal Tribes under Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 by the Government of India because of their anti-social activities such as robberies, murder, blackmailing, and crop and animal theft.[78] In 1914, Kolis of Maharashtra revolted against British rule and attacked government officials, and to control them, the government again declared the Kolis as a criminal tribe under the Bombay Criminal Tribes Act. Around 7000 Kolis were required to attend the call each day.[79] Kolis often attacked the Marwari Banias, Sahukars and Moneylenders. Kolis were often reported to burn houses and account books and looted the available valuables of moneylenders if they were unable to pay the debt given by moneylenders. This was especially common in Maharashtra and Gujarat. In 1925, Kolis were registered under Criminal Tribes Act.[80] The Indian historian G. S. Ghurye writes that Kolis worked as soldiers in the Indian Army in several Regiments but again in 1940 Koli soldiers were classified as a Criminal Tribe under Criminal Tribe Act by the Bombay Government for their uncommon activities against government officials.[81] In 1952, the Criminal Tribes Act was repealed temporarily and replaced with Habitual Offenders Act with slight modifications.

See also


  1. ^ The Patidars were formerly known as Kanbi, but by 1931 had gained official recognition as Patidar.[24]


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Further reading

  • Bayly, Susan (2001). Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521798426.
  • James, V. (1977). "Marriage Customs of Christian Son Kolis". Asian Folklore Studies. 36 (2): 131–148. doi:10.2307/1177821. JSTOR 1177821.