The Kurmis (Kunbis) are a Hindu agricultural Jati (community) in India and Nepal. The nomenclature of this caste is different geographically and dialectically. In 2006, the Indian government announced that Kurmi was considered synonymous with the Kunbi and Yellam castes in Maharashtra. All Patidars are descendants of Kurmis.
There are several theories regarding the etymology of the term Kurmi. It may be derived from an Indian tribal language, or may be a Sanskrit compound term krishi karmi, "Agriculturalist". Kurmi is a Sanskrit word literally means Ability to do, Powerful, Noble, Master Etc. Another theory holds that it was derived from krishmi, meaning "Ploughman".
While Aryans were in the Sindhu Valley, they established trades with Mesopotamia and Iran. Those people cannot pronounce sound of "S" instead they say sound of "H". They started referring the people of Sindhu Valley as "Hindu". This is how Aryans became Hindus. With time the Hindu society, settled in the Sindhu Valley, got divided into four social classes by profession as described below-
Kshatriya : Established control and power over territory, occupied land for agriculture, Protected (during wars) and ruled the society
Vaishya : Conducted businesses of agricultural products and commerce
Brahmins : Provided education to sons of Kshatriya and religious services for them
Shudra : Did manual work and served the other three groups specially kshatriyas in farming.
With the increase of population, the Kshatriya class got divided into three sub-classes - Rajan Kshatriya (Kings and leaders), Kshatriya (worriers), and land lords termed as Kurmi Kshatriya. The Kurmi Kshatriya did farming during the peacetime and helped army during the war times. Later those working only on farms (growing food and raising cows for the benefits of the entire society) became known as Kurmi. Thus Kurmi is a Vedic Kshatriya caste made for those Kshatriyas that has opted agriculture or farming as their main occupation. Kurmi is derived from the word 'Kunabi' which means farmers. Most of the Kurmis are land owning agrarians. The link between kshatriyas and agriculture has been justified on the grounds of linguistic affinities between the root Ar- ("bravery, heroism", found in English and Greek hero, Russian geroj, and Sanskrit arya) and other words for cultivators, i.e. those who labour nobly (Russian oratel' or ploughman, Airga in the Zend-Avesta); as well as in the legend of King Prithu, who tamed the earth to make the earth fertile again. It is for this reason that the Sanskrit word for "earth" is "Prithvi", in honour of the Aryan King Prithu who first cultivated the earth and Kurmi in Sanskrit means 'the ability to do'.
Crooke wrote about the Kurmi in 1897 :
The Kurmi were famed as cultivators and market gardeners in western and northern Awadh. The Muslim gentry offered the Kurmi highly discounted rental rates for clearing the jungle and cultivating it. Once the land had been brought stably under the plough, however, the land rent was usually raised to 30 to 80 per cent above the going rate. Although British revenue officials later ascribed the high rent to the prejudice among the elite rural castes against handling the plough, the main reason was the greater productivity of the Kurmi, whose success lay in superior manuring. According to historian Christopher Bayly, 'Whereas the majority of cultivators manured only the lands immediately around the village and used these lands for growing food grains, Kurmis avoided using animal dung for fuel and manured the poorer lands farther from the village (the manjha). They were able, therefore, to grow valuable market crops such as potatoes, melons and tobacco immediately around the village, sow fine grains in the manjha, and restrict the poor millet subsistence crops to the periphery. A network of ganjs (fixed rural markets) and Kurmi settlements could transform a local economy within a year or two.'
They are about the most industrious and hard-working agricultural tribe in the Province. The industry of his wife has passed into a proverb "Bhali jat Kurmin, khurpi hat, Khet nirawe apan pi ke sath". "A good lot is the Kurmi woman; she takes her spud and weeds the field with her lord."
Earlier, in the late eighteenth century, when Asaf-Ud-Dowlah, the fourth Nawab of Awadh, attempted to grant the kshatriya title of Raja to a group of influential landed Ayodhya Kurmis, he was thwarted by a united opposition of Rajputs, who were themselves (as described by Buchanan), "a group of newcomers to the court, who had been peasant soldiers only a few years before". According to historian William Pinch: Rajputs of Awadh, who along with brahmans constituted the main beneficiaries of what historian Richard Barnett characterizes as "Asaf's permissive program of social mobility," were not willing to let that mobility reach beyond certain arbitrary socio-cultural boundaries.
The mantle of leadership in this phase befell the well-connected Ramdin Sinha, a government forester who had gained notoriety by resigning from his official post to protest a provincial circular of 1894 that included Kurmis as a "depressed community" and barred them therefore from recruitment into the police service. The governor's office was flooded with letters from an outraged Kurmi-kshatriya public and was soon obliged to rescind the allegation in an 1896 communique to the police department "His Honor [the governor] is ... of the opinion that Kurmis constitute a respectable community which he would be reluctant to exclude from Government service."
The first Kurmi caste association had been formed in 1894 at Lucknow which was named as "Sardar Kurmi Sabha" in order to give teeth to their protest against the British decision to cut their numbers in the Military forces and against the police recruitment policy. This was followed by an organisation in Awadh that sought to draw other communities - such as the Patidars, Marathas, Kapus and Naidus - under the umbrella of the Kurmi name. This body then campaigned for Kurmis to classify themselves as Kshatriya in the 1901 census. In its 5th conference in 1909, this sabha declared to change its name from "Sardar Kurmi Sabha" to "All India Kurmi Kshatriya Association" and in 1910, led to the formation of the "All India Kurmi Kshatriya Mahasabha". Simultaneously, newly constituted farmers' unions, or Kisan Sabhas - composed of cultivators and pastoralists, many of whom were Kurmi, Ahir, and Yadav (Goala), and inspired by Hindu mendicants, such as Baba Ram Chandra and Swami Sahajanand Saraswati - denounced the Brahman and Rajput landlords as ineffective and their morality as false.
In 1930, the Kurmis of Bihar joined with the Yadav and Koeri agriculturalists to enter local elections. They lost badly but in 1934 the three communities formed the "Triveni Sangh" political party, which allegedly had a million dues-paying members by 1936. However, the organisation was hobbled by competition from the Congress-backed Backward Class Federation, which was formed around the same time and by co-option of community leaders by the Congress party. The Triveni Sangh suffered badly in the 1937 elections, although it did win in some areas. The organisation also suffered from caste rivalries, notably the superior organisational ability of the higher castes who opposed it, as well as the inability of the Yadavs to renounce their belief that they were natural leaders and that the Kurmi were somehow inferior. Similar problems beset a later planned caste union, the Raghav Samaj, with the Koeris.
Again in the 1970s, the India Kurmi Kshatriya Sabha (IKKS) attempted to bring the Koeris under their wing, but again a disunity troubled this alliance. Kurmi politician Nitish Kumar formed the Samata Party in 1994, forming a backward-upper caste alliance with the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party, which achieved only initial success. In 1998, politician Laloo Prasad Yadav took advantage of this lack of unity in the IKKS, portraying Koeri Shakuni Chaudhry as an incarnation of Kush. Under Yadav, the IKSS became less and less advantageous to the Kurmi, favouring instead the priorities of the Yadav caste, and this combined with the competition of the Kurmi-based Samata led to a divide between these intermittently allied castes. Kurmis constitute around sixteen percentage of the total population of India.