Harekala Hajabba, illiterate fruit seller honoured with Padma Shri for educating underprivileged children

Harekala Hajabba himself had never received any formal education but built a primary school for the underprivileged children in his village.

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Harekala Hajabba, a 65-year-old orange seller has been conferred with the fourth prestigious civilian award - Padma Shri. President of India Ram Nath Kovid handed the award to Hajabba on November 8 to honour him for his selfless contribution and bringing light to the educational field. 

This award will be an add on to over 500 awards/felicitations he had received in the past, however, according to him, the prestigious Padma Award will get a prominent place in his house. 

Harekala Hajabba himself had never received any formal education but built a primary school for the underprivileged children in his village. 

He went to Delhi for the Padma Award function with his nephew from Mangaluru on November 7 and was accommodated in a five star Asoka Hotel. All arrangements for Hajabba’s trip were made by Dakshina Kannada district administration and Dakshina Kannada MP Nalin Kumar Kateel.

Hajabba who sold oranges brought a revolution in the field of education by opening a school in his native place. He used money from his savings to build the primary school which grew year after year. 
The award for Hajabba was announced on January 25, 2020, but the function had to be postponed due to the Covid pandemic situation in the country. 
Hajabba is popularly called ‘Akshara Santa’ (Saint of Letters), successfully built the school and educated children in Newpadapu, Harekala village which is located 35 km from Mangaluru city. 
The idea of building a school for the underprivileged struck him after feeling ‘handicapped’ while speaking to some foreign tourists. 
In an old interview with the BBC back in 2012, Hajabba said, “The first time I felt handicapped because of my lack of education was when a foreigner asked me the price of the fruits in English. I didn’t know what he meant.”
“An idea struck me to start a primary school so that the young children of my village would not go through a similar situation,” he added.

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"I have been in touch with the office of Dakshina Kannada MP Nalin Kumar Kateel to make necessary arrangements for my travel to New Delhi for the ceremony. The government will take care of all my expenses. I will be leaving on November 7. I will preserve this prestigious honour bestowed on me in my house along with other awards, mementoes, and certificates that I received from more than 500 organisations,” he had said earlier. 
The fact that he could not receive any education as his village had no school, Hajabba took the challenge and embarked on the journey towards establishing a school in 1995. He left no stone unturned to get land for the construction of the school and got approval from the education department. His dream of building a school for his village children turned into reality in 1999 when Dakshina Kannada Zilla panchayat sanctioned the construction of a school. 
Initially, Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat Lower Primary School popular as ‘Hajabba avara Shale’ (Hajabba’s school) was functioning from a mosque, but later, classrooms for the school were built on 40% of the land sanctioned by the district administration. 
Hajabba was determined to provide a brighter future for the poor children in his village who couldn’t afford education. He used his per day earnings of Rs 150 and some other savings that he had to open the school. Seeing his efforts local authorities also came forward to help him.
And today Hajabba’s unique contribution to society has been recognised. 
Meanwhile, Y Satya Kumar, National Secretary of BJP praised Hajabba for his contribution to the education system and tweeted, "A real hero. Meet Harekala Hajabba Ji. An illiterate fruit vendor who devoted his entire life and earning’s towards educating others. He also built a ‘Primary School’ for underprivileged children in his village. Congratulations to him on being conferred with #PadmaShri". 

A Twitter user named Ankit Jain, who calls himself a columnist also tweeted about Hajabba receiving the award. "Orange seller Harekala Hajjaba from Karnataka… saved a part of income to fulfil his dream of starting a school in his village. Awarded padmashri by Modi sarkaar,” he wrote. 

Also Read: Padam Shree Award: Prez confers awards for 2020-2021, Karan Johar, Ekta Kapoor, Tarun Gogoi among 119 recipients

Some other recognition Hajabba has received for his tremendous work for the society includes, social activist and writer Ismath Pajeer published a book on Hajabba's life, which is titled 'Harekala Hajabbara Jeevana Charitre' (The life story of Harekala Hajabba). Mangalore university syllabus includes the life history of Hajabba. 

Hajabba was conferred with the 'Real Heroes' award by CNN IBN and Reliance Foundation and he was named Person of The Year by Kannada Prabha, a leading Kannada-language newspaper.