Hajabba is uneducated and has never attended school, and he has been selling oranges at Mangaluru bus station since 1977. His hamlet lacked a school, but the 66-year-old was determined to alter that.
Harekala Hajabba, in Mangaluru, Karnataka, orange vendor, won the Padma Shri Award from President Ram Nath Kovind at the Padma Awards event in Delhi. For his efforts in imparting education to youngsters in his community, the 66-year-old man received India’s second-highest civilian honour.
Hajabba, from the hamlet of Newpadapu in Mangalore, has no formal education but has been successful in establishing a school for his village’s youngsters.
Hajabba said it was an encounter with two foreign tourists once that initially led him in take up the initiative of opening a new school. Speaking to ANI, he said, “As I could not communicate with the foreigner, I felt bad and decided to build a school in the village. I only know Kannada, not English or Hindi. So I was depressed as I could not help the foreigner. I wondered about constructing a school in my village.”
Hajabba’s community lacked a school until 2000, when he gathered enough money from his shoddy work to build one on his own. He even took out loans and used his funds to acquire land for the school as the number of pupils increased.
With only Rs 150 a day, Hajabba received little help from neighbours and authorities. Still, his determination saw him open a primary school with 28 kids in a madrassa – a Muslim educational institution generally associated with a mosque.
As the number of pupils expanded over time, Hajaba was forced to seek loans, clean the school grounds, even boil water for the youngsters, and do various other tasks on his own.
Hajabba initially persuaded villagers and well-wishers to assist him in establishing the school at a nearby mosque. He would sweep the school grounds, boil water for the children to drink, and make frequent pleas to the Zilla Panchayat office in Dakshina Kannada, approximately 25 kilometres from his hometown, to formalise the educational facilities.
Hajabba’s efforts resulted in establishing a Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat Higher Primary School in Newpadupu village in 2008. He also found an organisation to simplify the school’s finances while ensuring that students and teachers have access to all necessary amenities.
The idea of building a school took two ages to come precise. The Akshara Santa (Letter Saint), a moniker he obtained through charitable activities, addressed former MLA late UT Fareed, who approved the building in 2000.
This same school opened with 28 children and now has 175 students from Kindergarten to Class 10. Now, Hajabba wants to put the money he’s won from various competitions over the years toward the establishment of new schools in his community.
On questioning what his next goal is, the 66-year-old man responded, “My goal is to construct additional schools and universities in my community. Many people have contributed money, and I have gathered prize money to obtain land for the establishment of schools and institutions.”
“I have encouraged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to create a pre-university facility (for Class 11 and 12 students) in my district,” he stated. He also thanked President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, MP Nalin Kumar Kateel, district in-charge minister Kota Srinivasa Poojary, and MLA UT Khadar for recognising his philanthropic work.
The Central Government revealed the names of Padma Awardees in January 2020. However, under COVID-19 rules, only gave out the prize on Monday.