Harekala Hajabba, street vendor to Padmashri awardee


We all can equally relate when it comes to instances where we pronounced a word wrongly or when we were corrected by a Grammar Nazi or when we got a Hollywood actor’s name wrong! The embarrassment we all feel in such instances is unbounded! But when faced with the very same embarrassment, Harekala Hajabba took a huge step to make sure that no child in his village has to go through a similar experience again!

Harekala Hajabba, a street orange vendor from Dakshin Kannada district, Karnataka has been conferred with Padmashri award, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, under social work category for his commendable initiative of devoting his 20 years of life and earnings to provide affordable education to the children in his village.

The illiterate fruit vendor used to earn a meager income and faced an unnerving incident where a foreigner asked him the price of the Oranges in English and Hajabba found himself in a position where he couldn’t comprehend a simple question as he didn’t know English. That was when he decided to set up a school so that young children in his village will not have to face the same situation that he had.

The couple were asking me the price of oranges, but then I did not understand. Despite my best efforts, I could not talk in anything besides Tulu and Beary language. The couple walked away. I felt very bad, and felt that at least the children of my own village should not be in a similar situation. I realised the manner in which communication can help one to progress in life, and at the same time bring people together,” said Hajabba while recounting the experience.

With the help of his earnings and the villagers, he initially started a school in a community mosque and later built Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat Higher Primary School and it has slowly progressed with the support of  the government and donations from private individuals into Hajabba school.

After building the school, Harekala worked hard by sweeping the campus and boiling water for children early in the morning and then he sold oranges throughout the day for income.

As most students discontinue after class 10, Hajabba now has plans to upgrade the school to pre-university college with the help of government officials so that students can continue their education.

Hajabba’s unique contribution has struck a chord with people. Several people have posted comments on Twitter to celebrate Hajabba’s efforts. He was also awarded as the ‘Person of the year’ by Kannada Prabha newspaper in 2004 and the ‘Real Heroes’ award by CNN-IBN in 2009. His hard work and struggle made him popular and his life story has also found its way into the syllabus of many universities in Karnataka. He’s popularly known as Akshara Santa or Saint of Letters for his dedication and passion to provide education for every child.

However, we all might not be able to build schools as Hajabba did, but we all can surely contribute for such a great cause to help people like Hajabba in educating rural India!