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The “Caddie Question”: Why the Golf Caddies of Bangalore Reject Formal Employment

The mainly poor and lower-caste caddies who carry the golf sets of wealthy members at exclusive golf clubs in Bangalore, India, are not employees. Still, they must hand over personal identification to the clubs, sign an attendance register, wear uniforms, attend training sessions, and submit to managerial oversight. Despite laboring under conditions that mimic regularized employment, however, the caddies are ambivalent about prospects of formalizing ties with the clubs. The paper interprets this position as a rational response to the indiscriminate and arbitrary application of disciplinary measures outlined in minutes to meetings, annual reports, and other documents. In practice, not all caddies, all of the time, are subject to the same strict rules regarding when to work, and with whom. This leaves most caddies open to develop working relationships with individual members who provide wages and tips at the end of a round, plus additional support in paying children’s school fees, medical costs, and other expenses. Though wages, tips, and extras still only amount to a paltry sum, a majority of caddies prefer the status quo over initiating a struggle to win low-wage formal employment that would further restrict their autonomy. These findings challenge scholarship and activism that assumes formal employment is a universally desired, if not always viable, objective among precarious workers in the global south.