An orange seller, Harekala Hajabba popularly known as Akshara Santa (Saint of letters), from Karnataka's Mangaluru earned the prestigious Padma Shri Award 2020 for educating children over a decade in his village, Newpadapu.
With an income of Rs 150, Hajabba saved money from his vendor business to build a school in his village for which he has been conferred the Padma Shri award in the category of social work.
'I could not believe it or dream of it, but was happy'
A day ahead of the 71st Republic Day the government announced the list of the 21 recipients of the Padma Shri this year.
In an interview, he said, "They spoke in Hindi, I could not understand, but later someone from the DK DC's (Dakshina Kannada Deputy Commissioner) office told me that I was selected for Padma Shri award. I could not believe it or dream of it, but I was happy."
Former PM and JD(S) leader HD Devegowda also felicitated Hajabba for the receiving the fourth prestigious civilian award.
Parveen Kaswan, an Indian Forest Services officer, took to his Twitter handle and posted, "Harekala Hajabba was in a line on a ration shop when authorities informed him that he got Padma Shri.
"This fruit seller from Dakshin Kannada is educating poor children in his village of Newpadapu from a decade in a mosque. Doing all the efforts including spending his savings."
Despite having no formal education himself, Hajabba has been successful in his effort of establishing a school for children.
Hajabba saved from his meagre earnings and little support from locals to set up a school. As the students grew, he took out loans and used his savings for the school's land.
He eventually opened a primary school with 28 students in a madrassa, a Muslim educational institution connected to a mosque.
From mopping the school premises to boiling water for students, Hajabba took up various tasks for better functioning of the school while educating the students.
His efforts were finally rewarded when he received a call from the Union Ministry before Republic Day.
What motivated the fruit seller to open a school?
According to reports, Hajabba once failed to sell oranges to foreign tourists because he was unable to understand the language.
Motivated by this incident, he decided to provide an opportunity to children of his village so they don't have to face similar circumstances in future.
In an interview, Hajabba expressed, "I realised the manner in which communication can help one to progress in life, and at the same time bring people together."