Bhubaneswar: The tribal population in Odisha was largely untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic and their unique customary practices and traditions have helped them keep the infection at bay, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu said here on Saturday while citing a study.

The report by Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI) noted that by habit, the tribal people maintain a reasonable distance from one another when they walk, he said.

"Such safe distancing and hygiene norms, rooted in the tribal culture coupled with the natural food, have helped them stay safe during the pandemic," Naidu said addressing the 50th convocation of Utkal University here.

Universities should focus on these positive aspects of tribal communities and include them in their curriculum, he said.

His comment came at a time when India on Saturday recorded 89,129 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily rise in around six-and-half-months, taking the nationwide tally of infections to over 1.23 crore.

Odisha is home to 62 tribal communities constituting 23 per cent of the state's total population.

"The development and welfare of these tribal communities should be our priority. We should approach them with respect and sensitivity. A paternalistic attitude is wrong.

"Truth is that we have a lot to learn from the tribal communities who live a simple life in harmony with nature," the Vice President said.

He also urged institutions like Utkal University to take up research on issues faced by tribal people and actively contribute to policy formation for their development and well-being.

Naidu also focused on the management of natural disasters that the coastal state faces regularly.

"You have seen regular occurrence of cyclones, floods and droughts in the state. Therefore, it is imperative to make disaster management an integral part of our education from the early days. This would prepare us better to face any such calamity in future. I hope Utkal University will take a lead in this regard," he said.

Naidu asked students to be sensitive to the needs of the excluded and said discipline, honesty and hard work are the keys to success in any field, including public life.

"We have great economic potential and can improve the human development index on all counts. We can fight hunger, disease, ignorance and every other evil that retard our growth," Naidu said.

Talking about the rich culture and history of Odisha, the Vice President said the great land of Kalinga taught the lesson of peace to Emperor Ashoka.

He also lauded the daring seafaring merchants of Kalinga, who established trade links with various countries.

"I want you (students) to take inspiration from their stories and imbibe the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. Our universities and educational institutions also have an important role in this.

"They should equip the students with requisite skills so that they can emerge as job creators, not mere job seekers," he added.

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