Nadesan Satyendra

It was Louis Fischer who in the 1940s wrote about Konstradt. The draconian Soviet suppression of the sailor’s revolt on the island of Konstradt near Petrograd during the revolution in 1917, served to turn many socialist sympathisers away from the Soviet Union. Louis Fischer commented:

‘‘What counts decisively is the ‘Konstradt’. Until its advent, one may waver emotionally or doubt intellectually or even reject the cause altogether in one’s mind and yet refuse to attack it. I had no ‘Konstradt’ for many years.’’

The burning of the Jaffna Public Library by the Sinhala police on the night of the 1st of June 1981 served as a Konstradt for many thousands of Tamils who until then had wishfully thought that they would be able to live with dignity and self respect with the Sinhala people and that despite everything, answers to problems of discrimination would be found through the Parliamentary process.

It was not simply that these Tamils were unable to dismiss the attack on the library as the action of looters and arsonists who had gone out of control. It was not simply that they knew that looters and arsonists do not usually attack libraries. It was also that these Tamils knew that the attack was launched by large numbers of Sinhala policemen whilst senior Government Ministers were in Jaffna, on a special visit, together with a contingent of high ranking Sinhala security personnel.

Again, though on the previous night i.e. the 31st of May, the policemen had attacked the Jaffna Market buildings and the house of the Jaffna Member of Parliament, emergency was not declared. Curfew was not imposed. Strange actions indeed, if, as the Sinhala Ministers sought to make out later, the Sinhala police had ‘mutinied’ and were ‘out of control.’ Emergency was not declared till after the Library was burnt on the following night.

Furthermore, despite the protestations of the Sinhala Ministers that the police had gone on a frolic of their own, no inquiry was ever held into the events of the 31st May and the 1st of June. No effort was made to bring the guilty to justice.

And when the Tamil leader of the opposition sought to bring a motion of no confidence against the Sinhala Ministers who had been present in Jaffna on those fateful days, the ruling Sinhala political party pre empted the move by bringing a motion of no confidence on the Leader of the Opposition! It was reportedly the first and only time that a motion of no confidence had been moved by a ruling party, on the leader of the opposition in any parliament, anywhere in the world. A point of order raised against the no confidence motion was overruled by the Speaker.

And, the debate on the motion was used to launch a well orchestrated campaign of vitriolic abuse and threats, intended to insult and intimidate the Tamil people, and subdue their reaction to the events of the nights of the 31st May and 1st June. If the burning of the Jaffna library was the pre meditated injury that was inflicted on the Tamil people on the 1st of June, then the parliamentary debate on the no confidence motion was the calculated insult that was added to the injury.

But that was not all. As Nancy Murray writes in ‘The State against the Tamils in Sri Lanka - Racism and the Authoritarian State ’:

‘While Sinhalese MPs discussed in parliament how to best kill (the Tamil parliamentary leaders), Tamil peasants were actually being murdered by organised gangs in the border areas of Batticaloa and Amparai. During July and August (1981), Tamils in the East and South, including the hill country plantation workers, were terrorised and made homeless. Women were raped and at least twenty-five people perished. The attacks, many by well organised goon squads, were widely believed to be directed by members of the ruling UNP, among them close friends of the President.’’

Thousands of Tamils, both young and old, (and I count myself as one of them) had their ‘Konstradt’ in the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. They were compelled to face upto the political reality that the Sinhala government was bent on subjugating the Tamil people and bending them to its will.

Nancy Murray commented in the State against the Tamils in Sri Lanka - Racism and the Authoritarian State - Race & Class, Summer 1984:

''With several high ranking Sinhalese security officers and two cabinet ministers, Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake (both self confessed Sinhala supremacists), present in the town (Jaffna), uniformed security men and plainclothes thugs carried out some well organised acts of destruction. They burned to the ground certain chosen targets - including the Jaffna Public Library, with its 95,000 volumes and priceless manuscripts, a Hindu temple, the office and machinery of the independent Tamil daily newspaper Eelanadu.. Four people were killed outright. No mention of this appeared in the national newspapers, not even the burning of the Library, the symbol of the Tamils' cultural identity. The government delayed bringing in emergency rule until 2 June, by which time key targets had been destroyed.''

And Virginia Leary declared in 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:

"...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 destruction of the Jaffna Public Library was the incident, which appeared to cause the most distress to the people of Jaffna...."

The Movement for Inter-racial Justice and Equality sent a delegation to Jaffna to investigate the June occurrences. The delegation’s report, in referring to the arson of the Public Library, stated,

"If the Delegation were asked which act of destruction had the greatest impact on the people of Jaffna, the answer would be the savage attack on this monument to the learning and culture and the desire for learning and culture of the people of Jaffna... There is no doubt that the destruction of the Library will leave bitter memories behind for many years.’..."

Some ten years later, in October 1991, Sri Lanka President Premadasa (who was no friend of the Tamil struggle) speaking in Puttalam in the aftermath of the impeachment resolution against him sponsored by UNP dissidents led by Mr.Lalith Athulathamudalai and Mr. Gamini Dissanayake:

''During the District Development Council elections in 1981, some of our party members took many people from other parts of the country to the North, created havoc and disrupted the conduct of elections in the North. It is this same group of people who are causing trouble now also. If you wish to find out who burnt the priceless collection of books at the Jaffna Library, you have only to look at the faces of those opposing us.''

Courtesy: tamilnation - http://www.tamilnation.org
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