Teli is a caste traditionally occupied in the pressing of oil in India, Nepal and Pakistan. Members may be either Hindu or Muslim; Muslim Teli are called Roshandaar or Teli Malik.[1]The Jewish community of Maharashtra (called Bene Israel) was also known to be a sub-group in the Teli caste called Shanivar Teli meaning Saturday oil pressers for their Jewish custom of abstention from work on Shabbat.[2]

Teli oil press.jpg
Teli oil press (Russell, 1916)
Regions with significant populations
 India,    Nepal,  Pakistan
Hinduism, Islam, Judaism


In the Early Medieval period in some parts of south India, Teli community used to work on their own oil presses to produce oil to be supplied to the temples. The emergence of "Temple towns" in various parts of south India was instrumental in the improvement of social status of some of the communities who were associated with the supply of essential items for cultural activities. The communities like Malakar (garland makers), and Telikars (oil pressers) thus became important for the functioning of such towns. Some of them even became prosperous enough to make donations to the temples.[3]

In the first decade of 20th century, upward mobilisation became the feature of Indian society when lower castes tried to move up in the socio-economic ladder by assuming the names and practices of "upper castes".Professor M.N. Srinivas notes the attempts of Teli community to claim different surnames in different censuses in a bid to improve their position in Varna system and Caste hierarchy. In 1911, the Teli community adopted the surname, Rathore and started calling themselves Rathore Teli; while in 1931 they claimed themselves to be Rathore-Vaishya. According to Shankaragouda Hanamantagouda Patil, this was done in order to climb the social ladder. Such practices were common amongst the lower castes in India.[4]The Arya Samaj movement also attempted to improve the status of lower castes as in the case of Telis, Shri Satyavrat Sharma Dwivedi an Arya Samajist from Farrukhabad published a magazine "Telivarna Prakash" to prove the Teli caste to be of Vaishya varna.[5]

Despite of the later attempts to claim higher status Teli were initially considered as Shudra and were thought to be lower in status. According to Anand Yang, the Telis worked with beast of burden in the oil pressers and for the purpose of obtaining the desired results from the animals, they were often blinded. This made them ritually impure but later many of them as Yang notes took up the occupation of trading and branched off as Bania in order to conceal their impure origin. [6]


The Bene Israel community which inhabit some of the places in Maharashtra are also called as Shanivar Teli and are considered to be a subgroup of Teli community due to their association with the oil trade.This community though is not divided on the basis of caste but segregated on the basis of having marital relationship with people of other caste.These two sub-groups, one having relations in other castes and another with no such relations refrain from mixing with each other.[7][2]The Telis of Bengal share their social position with trader communities like Suvarnabanik, Gandhabanik, Saha all of which are classified as Vaishya.[8]Further, the Ghanchi community of Gujarat have been described as a "counterpart" of the Telis.[9]



In the post Mandal phase the growing differences between upper castes and OBC due to tussle between the two groups over political power culminated into replacement of upper castes by the OBCs in the political circle. The Telis along with Yadav, Kurmi, Koeri and Bania took over the erstwhile political elites namely Brahmin, Bhumihar, Rajput and Kayastha.The OBCs in Bihar are divided into upper and lower OBC on the basis of socio-economic mobility and political representation. Whilst the trio of Yadav, Kurmi and Koeri are considered as upper OBC, Teli along with Kanu, Dhanuk, Kahar, Kumhar and others are classified as lower OBC.[10] In the late 2000s, some among the Teli community of Bihar, organised by the Teli Sena, were engaging in vote bank politics as they sought to achieve categorisation as a Most Backward Class in the state. Initially, they had failed to achieve this repositioning in India's official positive discrimination scheme,[11] with opposition coming from other groups who considered the Teli to be too populous and socio-economically influential to justify the change.[12] In April 2015, Bihar chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced a decision to include the Teli caste in the list of Extremely Backward Class in Bihar.[13][14]


In 2018 the Bharatiya Janata Party led government in Jharkhand tried to include castes like Teli and Kurmi in the category of Scheduled Tribes, which was welcomed by protests from tribals of Jharkhand under the banner of Jai Adivasi Yuvashakti (JAY) a local organisation which organised "Adivasi Akrosh Maharally", a gathering of all principal tribal groups of the state to protest against the same. [15]

See also


  1. ^ People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII edited by A Hasan & J C Das
  2. ^ a b Orpa Slapak; Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem) (1995). The Jews of India: a story of three communities. UPNE. pp. 108–. ISBN 978-965-278-179-6. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  3. ^ "Proceedings - Indian History Congress". Indian History Congress(original from The University of Michigan). 2003. pp. 383, 387, 392. Retrieved 28 August 2020. Often oil presser is referred as Teli , “ Telikar or Tailyakar ( Sanskrit - Tailikakar ) etc . The reference of ... Obviously oil industry , whether on small or large scale was important and the telikaras i.e. the oil pressers assumed importance in the rural and urban life . ... It appears from the inscriptions that some part of the oil production was donated to the Temples , for the worship of the diety ( in the temples ) .
  4. ^ Patil, Shankaragouda Hanamantagouda (2002). Community Dominance and Political Modernisation: The Lingayats. Mittal Publications. p. 88. ISBN 8170998670. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  5. ^ Gupta, Dipankar (2004). Caste in Question: Identity Or Hierarchy?. SAGE. ISBN 0761933247. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
  6. ^ Yang, Anand A. (February 1999). Bazaar India: markets, society, and the colonial state in Gangetic Bihar. p. 230. ISBN 9780520919969.
  7. ^ Govinda Nārāyaṇa Māḍagāṽakara; Murali Ranganathan; Gyan Prakash (2008). Govind Narayan's Mumbai: an urban biography from 1863. Anthem Press. pp. 283–. ISBN 978-1-84331-277-2. Retrieved 12 February 2012.
  8. ^ Gupta, Sankar Sen (1976). Folklore of Bengal: A Projected Study. Indian Publications.
  9. ^ "Nitish Kumar's 'wait and watch' on Bihar BJP's latest Narendra Modi gimmick". NDTV. 27 May 2009. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  10. ^ Kumar, Sanjay (2018). Post-Mandal Politics in Bihar: Changing Electoral Patterns. SAGE Publishing India. ISBN 978-9352805860. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  11. ^ Sengupta, Joy (27 September 2010). "Caste brigades drive hard bargain for their share in Assembly, keep parties guessing". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  12. ^ "Bid to make Teli an EBC opposed". The Times of India. 26 May 2009. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
  13. ^ "Bonanzas in Bihar for upper castes, contractual employees". Business Standard. PTI. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2015.
  14. ^ "Bihar: BJP, JD(U) set for a war of sops ahead of Assembly polls".
  15. ^ "Tribals warn Govt against ST status to Kurmi, Teli". The Pioneer. Retrieved 29 August 2020.

Further readings