Harekala Hajabba, a poor Muslim of Karnataka, was conferred Padma Shri Award, India’s second-highest civilian award,  for opening a school in his village Harekala-Newpadapu in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, from the President of India in the national capital on November 8.

Hajabba, a Beary Muslim, sells oranges at Mangaluru bus stand since 1977. He set up the school with his meagre savings, and paved way for a revolution in rural education.

Mr Hajabba is illiterate and has never been to school. The desire to bring revolution in education in his village came to his mind in 1978 when a foreigner asked him the cost of orange. He felt depressed as he could not communicate with the foreigner. He knows only Kannada, not English or Hindi. This was the moment when he decided to construct a school in his village. His dream of constructing a school was realised only after two decades.

The Akshara Santa (Letter Saint), a title that he earned through his philanthropic work, approached former MLA late UT Fareed, who sanctioned the construction in the year 2000. The school started with 28 students and now accommodates 175 marginalised students up till Class 10.

Now, Mr Hajabba wants to invest the prize money that he has received after winning various awards in these many years in the construction of more schools in his village.

When asked what his next target is, the 66-year-old man said, “My target is to build more schools and colleges in my village. Many people have donated money and I have accumulated prize money for purchasing the land for the construction of schools and colleges.”

The government had announced the names of Padma Awardees in January 2020. But due to Covid-19 protocols, the award was only distributed on November 8.

Mr. Hajabba once again proved what a simple soul he is by declining the felicitations extended to him by the public at Mangaluru airport where he had arrived after receiving the Padma Shri. Though some people managed to garland him, he made a quick exit. Later, lauding Hajabba’s simplicity, Deputy Commissioner Dr. K.V. Rajendra said, “His contribution to the education sector is immense, he is a role model.”

Hajabba was born on 17 October 1952 and lived with his parents in Tumkur of Karnataka but later shifted to Mangaluru, Karnataka. He is married and has children.

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