Gajalakshmi Paramasivam – 23 February 2015
Who Burnt the Tamil Public Library?
This morning’s mail brought yet another reminder of the Burning of the Public Library in Jaffna. The introduction was as follows:
[Following is the text of an open letter sent by former Sri Lankan Police officer K.Krishnadasan to senior DIG of Police Edward Gunawardena about assertions made by the retired DIG about the burning of the Jaffna public library in a book written by him. Mr.Krishnadasan who claims to be an eyewitness to the burning questions Ex-DIG Gunawardena about references in his book that the library was burnt down by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE)organization. Mr.Krishnadasan also poses some challenging questions to Mr.Gunawardena about the retired DIG’s role and conduct in Jaffna at the time of the Jaffna library incident] http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/38849#more-38849
Education is the special wealth in which the Jaffna Tamil invested – often even by selling land. Last year – despite all the war related pain and damage – Pakiyaraja Darukeesan of Jaffna Hindu College topped the national list in the Maths stream at University Entrance level exams. This confirms that there are forces deeper than the seen and the known that influence outcomes that uphold deep beliefs. Education is the main common religion of the Jaffna Tamil. The heritage manifested largely through my mother – Sironmani Navaratnam - who herself was an outstanding student but as per the culture of her times – was given away in marriage. My mother ensured that all her children got the grades in school. I am also a beneficiary of this heritage – not only through my mother but also through Jaffna mind in common. I believe I now am adding value to that heritage through my own life by using my education for life than just for living. This I believe would lead to a stronger heritage being passed on to the next generation.
It is therefore understandable that persons like myself would be deeply affected by the burning of the library in our part of the world. As a student I spent many hours in that library.
In his communication – fellow Australian Tamil - Mr. Krishnadasan – writes:[Recently I had the opportunity to read your book ‘Memorable Tidbits including the Jaffna Library fire’. You have attributed the blame for burning the Jaffna Public Library to the LTTE, due to the caste conflict prevailing among the Tamils.]
This was the first time I leant about the book and the first thought that came to my mind was ‘How could Jaffna Library fire be included as a Tidbit?’ To me it was painful that a Police Officer would use such description to describe the destruction of any educational building – leave alone one that was Public wealth of higher value. Further research into the background of this frivolous mind led to the following:
“Who Burnt the Jaffna Library? Edward Gunawardena has Demonstrated that it was the LTTE Which Masterminded this Crime Against Civilization” by Prof.Carlo Fonseka
Ladies and gentlemen, the striking front cover of Edward Gunawardena’s Memoir proclaims that among the tidbits of his memorable, eventful life of some seventy-eight years is the story of the Jaffna library fire. It seems to be that calling the Jaffna Library fire a tidbit is a bit like calling Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth the Second, ‘miss’.
I felt comforted by the above criticism – but not for long. Professor Carlo Fonseka goes on to state:
“Edward was our man on the spot and he was an eye witness to the event. His clear, authoritative, comprehensive account of the Jaffna Library Fire bearing the title ‘Who Burnt the Jaffna Library?’ occupies thirty seven pages of this 390 page book. It comprises chapter 11 of the book…….Not only the world, I too was one who believed that Mr Gamini Dissanayake was the villain. And during the 1994 presidential election campaign I crucified Mr Gamini Dissanayake for this crime which I believed he committed. ……I now think that it was a period when time was out of joint and Edward Gunawardena had been sent to set the historical record right. It was my delusion that it was Minister Gamini Dissanayake who burned the Jaffna Library. I became guilty of an act which shall remain a permanent source of regret in my mind. I need to use this platform and try and make amends for the injustice I inflicted on Mr. Gamini Dissanayake. But before that, let me say a few words about the Memoir of Edward Gunawardena…………….. I really believed that Gamini Dissanayake was responsible for this. At the end of the speech which lasted about 20 or 30 minutes, where I talked about the Dhushanaya and Bhishanaya I finally come to this poem. I read that thirty times on platforms. It depresses me and I need to make amends. I thank you Edward for documenting the truth with your mastery of criminal justice. And now I, all I can do is to tell the Dissanayake family [I knew Gamini Dissanayake, he was very polite and courteous to me] that I wronged him because I didn’t know. All I can do now is make amends for the gross injustice I inflicted upon him. So I ask Mrs. Shrima Dissanayake, Naveen Dissanayake and Dr Lanka Dissanayake to forgive me.”
It was appalling to note that a person with such a wavering mind could be called a Professor! The mind is that of a politician and not that of an academic. The fire happened on 31 May 1981. The book by the Sinhalese Policeman was launched more than 30 years later - on 30 January 2013. Unless we record our observations soon after the event – it is highly likely that we ourselves would combine our observations with our inner thoughts. Hence physical observations are inadmissible in finding out the Truth. What happened is influenced by many forces – including Natural forces. The consolidated mind of the participants – visible as well as invisible – would lead us to the Truth. Not the net value of eyewitness evidence. Why something happened ought to have been the question in Professor Fonseka’s mind. It would have been if he was a true academic. One certified by him is inheriting the weak mind.
If on the other hand, we looked at who felt more pain at the loss – it was the Tamil mind. Taken as a community – Tamils are the ones who have the moral authority to point the finger at the Government for failing to protect their heritage. Like with Tamil Nationalism – that Library is now Tamil Library and not just Jaffna Library. Sinhalese may claim ownership through possession of the tangible. But the real value is in the mind of the believer. Just because Kathirgamam is in Southern Sri Lanka – Murugan does not become depiction of Sinhala philosophy. Given that there are Sinhala believers – Kathirgama Murugan could be called Sri Lankan Murugan. Given that the origin is Tamil philosophy – (Murugan is Tamil Deity) – the due shares need to be allocated to Tamils. Even if the Sinhalese mind fails – Lord Muruga does the needful. This is also why President Sirisena who prayed at Kathirgamam for an election victory needs to facilitate the recognition of Tamil mind in Sri Lanka – especially the higher Tamil mind that includes Sinhalese also. Ownership through possession without belief – leads to separation. One cannot blame Eelam Separatists alone for such separation. One who owns the problem owns the opportunity. Tamils owned and we continue to lead in educational pursuits.