40 YEARS SINCE THE BURNING OF THE JAFFNA PUBLIC LIBRARY
JAFFNA PUBLIC LIBRARY
The Jaffna Public Library was the pride of Tamil people, not only for those who lived in Jaffna peninsula, but also for academics and research-scholars from 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.
JAFFNA PUBLIC LIBRARY WAS TARGETED PURSUING GENOCIDAL AGENDA
The Mullivaikkal massacre was the eye opener to the world of the ongoing genocidal acts against the Tamils ever since independence in 1948. Among such acts, the Sinhala Only Act, depriving Tamil language of its parity status, in 1956; the introduction of standardisation denying Tamil students admission to universities in 1971; and the disruption and killing of civilians who attended the World Tamil Research Conference in 1974, obviously had genocidal intent. In consequence of these actions, the Tamils’ primary demand was for the restoration of Tamil nation’s lost sovereignty.
The burning of the library on 01 June 1981, was the premeditated act of the Sri Lankan government with the presence of two cabinet ministers staying in a Jaffna hotel encouraging the so-called police forces especially brought from south under the guise of supervising district council election on June 04th. The Superintendent of Police and the Chief of the Defense staff were also present in Jaffna at that time.
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.
TAMILS’ WISH TO HAVE A SEPARATE LIBRARY BUILT NEARBY WHILE PRESERVING THE OLD ONE AS A MONUMENT TO CONVEY WHAT TAMILS WENT THROUGH
Successive governments that came to power wanted to rebuild and refurbish the destroyed Jaffna Public Library with the motive of eradicating all evidence of genocide. During the negotiations between Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government and the LTTE, the Government of Sri Lanka purposely brought the issue of the Jaffna Public Library. The Tamil people wanted to preserve and treasure the burnt library as the living memory of the atrocities inflicted on Tamils. In the course of the negotiation an understanding was reached between the negotiating parties for a new library to be built next to the old one. In response, an architectural design for the new library was submitted to the government negotiators.
REFURBISHING & FURNISHING OF THE BURNT DOWN JAFFNA PUBLIC LIBRARY
Contrary to the Tamils’ wish to retain the burnt library building, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, after occupying the Jaffna district in 1996, undertook to repair & refurbish the old library building, the idea behind which was to erase the scars of the burnt library.
No matter who governs the island, the government did not want to leave any trace of evidence of genocide of Tamils to the international attention. Tamils around the world need to work together to collect and preserve documents of rich cultural and historical importance to Tamils on the island, in the digital form and store them in multiple locations providing access to future generations and researchers. This is regarded as a major responsibility of safeguarding our identity as a nation, to survive existential threats from the Sri Lankan State.
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