Home » 41st Anniversary Remembrance of the Burning of the Jaffna Public Library

41st Anniversary Remembrance of the Burning of the Jaffna Public Library

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“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana”

JAFFNA PUBLIC LIBRARY 

The Jaffna Public Library was the pride invaluable asset of Tamil people, not only for those who lived in Jaffna peninsula, but also for academics and research-scholars from all around the world.  With a modest beginning in 1933, it grew to become a repository of significant Tamil palm leaf manuscripts, original copies of regionally important historic documents in the contested political history of Sri Lanka and newspapers that were published hundreds of years ago in the Jaffna peninsula. It thus became a place of historic and symbolic importance to the Tamil people.

BURNING DOWN JAFFNA PUBLIC LIBRARY – A CULTURAL GENOCIDE

On 01 June 1981, Jaffna Public Library was reduced to by the premeditated willful and malicious act of then Sri Lankan government with the presence of two cabinet ministers Gamini Dissanayake and Cyril Matthew were stationed in Jaffna to oversee the election process and campaign. They encouraged the police forces and thugs especially brought from south and housed in Duraiappa Stadium under the guise of election duty of the district council election on June 04th. The location of Duraiappa Stadium across a road of Jaffna Public Library and adjacent to the Jaffna Police Station at that time. 

On the 01st of June, at around 10 pm, then Jaffna Municipal Commissioner Mr. C V K Sivagnanam received a call from Mrs Yogendra Duraisamy, the wife of then Government Agent of Jaffna District and their house was within the vicinity of the library, telling him that there were smoke and fire coming around the library and asked him to check up. When he contacted his staff over the phone and they told him that the library has been set on fire. Please find former Municipal Commissioner Mr C V K Sivagnanam’s testimony as video statement here. 

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For Tamils, the devastated library became a symbol of cultural genocide. The attack was seen as an assault on their aspirations, the value of learning and traditions of academic achievement. 

Thereafter, a committee was appointed by J R Jayawardena, and one-man committee was headed by Kingly Wickramasooriya, who was the DIG, came to Jaffna and collected evidence from several high-ranking officials and witnesses in Jaffna, including then Jaffna Municipal Commissioner Mr. C V K Sivagnanam, who was threatened to be shot by the police by a road barricade, when Mr. Sivagnanam was rushing in his car after receiving a phone call about Jaffna Library was on fire. Mr.  Sivagnanam had seen the burning library and the policemen in the library area from the location where he was stopped by the police.

Despite of appointing a committee by the government at that time and up to now no action have been taken by any successive Sri Lankan government came to power thereafter, to grant justice to the crime committed by the perpetrators by burning the cultural treasure of Tamil people.  

This shows the clear evidence of Tamil genocidal intent of Sri Lankan state’s policy that it hitherto adapt.

TAMIL PEOPLE WISHED TO RETAIN THE RUINED LIBRARY AS A MEMORIAL OF STRUCTURAL GENOCIDE OF TAMIL PEOPLES’ INVALUABLE INHERITANCE AND TO BUILD ANOTHER IDENTICAL ONE NEARBY

With the motive of eradicating all evidence of genocide, successive governments planned to rebuild and refurbish the ruined Jaffna Public Library against Tamil peoples’ wish of preserving as a living memory of a part of atrocity crimes inflicted on them.. 

During one of the truce negotiations between Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government and the LTTE, the government of Sri Lanka purposely brought the issue of the Jaffna Public Library and a compromise was reached between the negotiating parties for a new library to be built next to the old one. Subsequently, an architectural design for the new library was submitted to the government negotiators.

REFURBISHING & FURNISHING OF THE BURNT DOWN JAFFNA PUBLIC LIBRARY 

Nevertheless, contrary to such a negotiated compromise to retain the burnt library building, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, after militarily occupying the Jaffna district in 1996, undertook to repair & refurbish the old library building, deliberately to erase the scars of the burnt library. 

Among many other atrocities, this enduring psychological scar continuous to traumatise Tamil people and this will never be erasable. —

Best Wishes

S. Sangeeth     

BTF Media Contact

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