Development might have passed by the tribal regions in India. But the more regressive aspects of modernization do seem to have reached them in ample measure.
HIV/AIDS is a serious problem among tribals, it is well known. Now it is reported that the youth among them have come to know how to kill off the female foetus, says a study conducted by the Pune-based Centre for Youth Development and Activities (CYDA), with support from the United Nations Population Fund.
Tribal youth are now going to cities or making use of portable ultrasound machines that provide sex determination 'services' at a nominal price.
India's 10 best performing districts, where the ratio of girls is higher than boys, are mostly dominated by tribal communities, while the 10 worst performing districts are in Punjab and Haryana.
The best performing districts are South Sikkim, Upper Siang and East Kameng in Arunachal Pradesh; Bastar and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh; Pulwama, Kupwara and Budgam in Jammu and Kashmir; Senapati in Manipur and Mokukchung in Nagaland.
But now elders in tribal villages fear that urbanisation will hit tribal villages as youngsters will fall prey to this "style" very soon.
This fear was expressed by villagers of Badi in Rajasthan, who said that as the educational level went up among their youngsters they tended to adopt certain lifestyles followed by city dwellers.
Quoting a social worker intervening in this area, the study says: "It is being increasingly felt that the issue of female foeticide is entering into the village settings dominated by tribals. Although in the programme area where we work there exist no ultrasound labs, our tribal youth are seen indulging in sex selective practices by going to the cities."
There are also indications that in rural and tribal areas, where the sex determination technology is not locally accessible, people seek the help of quacks and dais (midwives) who prescribe herbs/medicines claiming that these will change the sex of the child.
Quoting another social worker in the area, the CYDA study says, "People also use traditional herbs and other medicine to have a male child or to change the sex of the foetus from female to male."
The access to information, means and technology, and the impact of the pro-sex determination perspective of the urban educated economically well-off sections have influenced some migrant populations of rural India also, a chunk of which are tribal. Technology inroads into semi-urban/rural areas have resulted in an increasing number of people there going in for sex selection.
In Maharashtra's Akluj gram panchayat, a well developed semi-urban area with a population of 40,000, many unqualified people are using portable machines and travelling to interior villages to offer sex determination services on the doorstep for a nominal fee.
According to a Tamil Nadu organisation, Rural Rehabilitation Centre, access to technology has led certain communities such as the Kallars in Madurai district, who were traditionally practising female infanticide, to gradually shift to sex determination tests and sex-selective abortions.