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31 May 1981

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The District Development Council meeting is disrupted in Jaffna by ‘mobs’. Violence lasts until 2 June: destruction of the market area of Jaffna, the office of the Tamil Newspaper, the home of the member of Parliament for Jaffna, and burning of the Jaffna Public Library.

Quotations and sources

“A large group of police (estimated variously from 100-200) went on rampage on the nights of May 31-June 1 (1981) and June 1-2 burning the market area of Jaffna, the office of the Tamil Newspaper, the home of the member of Parliament for Jaffna and the Jaffna Public Library…The widespread damage in Jaffna as a result of the actions of the police were evident during the visit of the ICJ observer in Jaffna in August…The 95,000 volumes of the Public Library destroyed by the fire included numerous culturally important and irreplaceable manuscripts… The government should lead a major national and international effort to rebuild and develop the Jaffna Public Library destroyed by arson by police in June 1981. Such an effort would evidence the respect the government for the cultural rights of the Tamils, help to remedy a serious injustice done to the Tamil community and contribute to restoring Tamil confidence in the government…A primary concern of the government should be the physical security of the minority Tamil population and the avoidance of future communal violence so frequently directed against Tamils in the past… In this regard the government should pursue a vigorous policy of investigation and prosecution of police officers responsible for the burning of many areas in Jaffna in May/June 1981,” Virginia Leary, Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Sri Lanka – Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists, July/August 1981.

“It is regrettable that the government did not institute an independent investigation to establish responsibility for these killings and take measures against those responsible. Instead, one police officer involved was promoted and emergency legislation was introduced facilitating further killings,” Orville H. Schell, Head of the Amnesty International 1982 Fact Finding Mission to Sri Lanka.

Related links
From Destroying a symbol: Checkered history of Lanka’s Jaffna public library, Rebecca Knuth, University of Hawaii, June 2006:
“The collection became well known internationally and was popular with Sinhalese and Tamil intellectuals, as well as the general public. It became the major repository for all known literary source materials of the Tamil people (Sivathamby 2004). … The library held miniature editions of the Ramayana epic, yellowing collections of extinct Tamil-language newspapers (Dugger 2001), and microfilms of important documents and records of the Morning Star, a journal published by missionaries in the early twentieth century (“Civilization and Culture…” 2003). It held historical scrolls, works on herbal medicine, and the manuscripts of prominent intellectuals, writers, and dramatists. Indeed, one could think of the Jaffna Library as a national library even though a Tamil nation had not yet come into being.

From What’s lost forever when a library burns, The Economist, 28 May 2008:
“With 97,000 books and manuscripts, including many medieval Tamil texts written on palm-leaf parchment, Jaffna’s library was one of the greatest repositories of Tamil history and learning in the world. It was also one of the finest libraries in Asia. A 15th-century Spanish bible was among its lost jewels.”

Related events
LTTE kill 13 soldiers in armed ambush
Widespread anti-Tamil communal riots, remembered as ‘Black July’
Anti-Tamil violence spreads around the country
Anti-Tamil riots causes civilian deaths and displacement

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