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Tamils commemorate destruction of Jaffna Public Library

Tamils gathered in front of the Jaffna Public Library this week to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of the treasured institution being set ablaze by Sri Lankan security forces and state-sponsored mobs.

At midnight on May 31, 1981, the Jaffna Public Library, the crucible of Tamil literature and heritage, was set ablaze by Sri Lankan security forces and state-sponsored mobs. The burning has since been marked by Eelam Tamils as an act of genocide.

Dozens of people gathered in front of the library this week, to commemorate the burning.

Over 97,000 unique and irreplaceable Tamil palm leaves (ola), manuscripts, parchments, books, magazines and newspapers, housed within an impressive building inspired by ancient Dravidian architecture, were destroyed during the burning. Some texts that were kept in the library, such as the Yalpanam Vaipavamalai (a history of Jaffna), were literally irreplaceable, being the only copies in existence. It was one of the largest libraries in Asia.

Candles were placed in front of the library entrance to mark the anniversary of the arson. Library staff members were joined by local activists and Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) MP S Kajendran.

The destruction took place under the rule of the UNP at a time when District Development Council elections were underway, and two notorious Sinhala chauvinist cabinet ministers - Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake - were in Jaffna.

Earlier this year, Sri Lanka’s president Ranil Wickremesinghe attended an event to honour Dissanayake.

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