THE JAFFNA PUBLIC LIBRARY Pt 3
Posted on September 22nd, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

LTTE was also a suspect in the burning of the Jaffna library. What was the LTTE doing while the Jaffna library was burning” someone asked on social media. Came the reply, In 1981, LTTE was not as strong as it became in later stages. They were just using hit and run tactics. So I don’t think that LTTE could have done anything to prevent the burning,” .

Others also vehemently opposed the charge that the LTTE did the burning. This is the first time such a report has been put forward, commented Tassie Seneviratne. Will the Tigers, fighting for Tamil Elam, destroy the strongest and most precious cultural possession of the Tamil people — the records of the very cultural claims they were making.  Inconceivable, said Tassie .

Would separatist insurgents anywhere burn down the very symbol and pride of their people on ‘caste’ grounds and still retain its support and image as a savior, asked Lalin Fernando. LTTE had fought with tremendous courage that drew admiration even from its foes and finally died fighting to the last man.

In a letter to the Daily News a reader also contested the notion that the LTTE burnt the Jaffna public library. Police officer Krisnadasan said it is highly unlikely that LTTE would have set fire to the library building in order to implicate the Forces and the Government.

But Edward Gunawardena in his book Memorable tidbits including the Jaffna library fire” published in 2013, says the Jaffna Library was set on fire by the LTTE. The world knows nothing of the rigid caste structure that dominates Jaffna, Edward said.  The library was not an institution to be admired and venerated by the non Vellala Tamils. What better target for destruction, he asked.

Gunawardene was well placed to make his observations. He had been sent from Colombo to strengthen the police force to control the simmering violence in Jaffna. He had voiced his views in the news paper in 2006, and had appeared before Sharvananda Commission to give evidence. Nobody, NGO or otherwise has contested his conclusion that the burning was done by the LTTE, said Upali Cooray.

Critics wanted to know from Edward, why he waited so long to come out with this statement. Why did he not convey it at the time to the DIG or IGP. This was not a ‘tit bit’ to be kept for his book. Also what was Edward doing in Jaffna at this time? Why did he not report or at least visit Jaffna police station. Was he under cover. Was he on a special assignment, if so where is his report to the IGP. Gamini Gunawardene, former DIG, joined the discussion. He also thought that Edward should have made a written statement in the relevant police register and also informed the IGP.

Edward repliedthat he had reasons for not informing. He was in a vulnerable position at the time. He was a hunted man, a scapegoat in waiting”. It would have been foolish to volunteer a statement and open myself for further grilling and even detention. It is significant that nobody who was a witness to the incident or was even present in Jaffna at the time of the incident has written anything on the subject, he said.

Furthermore, the significance of some of the things I saw, observed, and came to know dawned on me only much later. No police investigator would have been prepared to listen to me, of the caste factor in Jaffna society, the anti-Hindu stance of the LTTE, the Indian interests in the politics of the region or the role of RAW in the disruption of the DDC elections. I have highlighted all these in my book with quotations from the writings of Tamil journalists. It is the indirect and circumstantial evidence buttressed by the strong motive that has made the case against the LTTE irrevocable” concluded Edward.

Edward Gunawardena wrote again in 2021 on the burning of the library. Having kept mum for three decades, except once in 2006 when I was compelled to come out with the truth when an admirer of Anton Balasingham, writing to a Sri Lankan newspaper, alleged that I was responsible for the burning of the library, I decided that I should write of what I witnessed, what I came to know of and the deductions and conclusions I arrived at particularly with my training and experience as an intelligence officer. (Edward Gunawardene.  Memoirs. Island 8.8.21 p 13)

A journalist named Aboorvan Prabanjana (I don’t know whether this was a real name or a pseudonym) writing on ‘Tamil Matters’ in the Sunday Lakbima of October 16. 2008 said that the crime was plotted and perpetrated by the politicians of the then ruling party.

Prabanjana said that mobs brought to Jaffna from the southern part of the country allegedly led by a prominent politician of the then ruling party who was active during the campaign for the District Development Council elections of 1981, created a frenetic situation in Jaffna. The mobs were reportedly aided by the police. They set fire to several important buildings in the Jaffna town including the public library.

The above assertions of Prabanjana, to me who was an eye witness to the happenings in Jaffna including the library going up in flames, are baseless and unsubstantiated. The present generation has been fed on writings of this nature and made to believe that mobs, politicians and police officers were the culprits.

Edward said on May 30, I was sent to Jaffna by President JR Jayawardene, on a special assignment.”  When he got there, Edward was told that there was unrest in Jaffna from the time the elections were announced. There had been a series of killings of police officers. Police on duty at the Nachiamman Kovil meeting had been shot resulting in the death of Sergeant Punchi Banda. Edward found that the police were gripped by a sense of fear and insecurity.

About 400 policemen from different police divisions had   arrived in Jaffna In preparation for the election.  Edward found that the number of senior officers was quite disproportionate to the number of Sergeants and Constables. There was a complete lack of co-ordination between the Northern Range and Police Headquarters and the arrival of so many police had not been prepared for.  This had resulted in a chaotic situation.

HQI Lalith Gunasekera had to arrange for the billeting and food for the incoming police. The available food was insufficient. The army was asked whether they could provide food.  Gunasekera had even spent his own money to purchase some dry fish and rice to be given to the Mess for cooking.  HQI Gunasekera and I had to tactfully sort out these issues, recalled Edward.

In view of    this Gunawardene felt that acts of arson, especially the burning of the library could not have been committed by the police, the armed services or any unruly mob.   They were not organized enough.

For nearly a week prior to June 1, 1981 the District Intelligence Bureau of Jaffna had been getting information regarding   lectures given by Anton Balasingham and his wife Adele, to the LTTE. Balasingham and Adele had moved temporarily to Madras, from London,  and presumably came to Jaffna to give the lectures. The Intelligence Bureau got their information from those who had attended these lectures.

The Balasinghams had, said that it was urgently necessary to do something that would get world media attention. Some sensational act to attract the attention of the world to the cause of the Tamils. This had to be done quickly.

Then on June 2, 1981, the day following the burning .Gunewardene had a visit from an Indian Security agent, Shan, whom he had got to, know when the Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai came to Sri Lanka and Gunewardene was his Security Co-ordinator. At that time Shan had come to Sri Lanka as part of Morarji Desai’s advance security contingent.

Shan told Edward that this time he was in Jaffna because India did not want the government to win the election.   He had said  that the burring of the Library would affect the image of the country abroad. Sri Lanka will become a pariah state. It then became clear to me that there was a connection between the disruption of the elections and the burning of the library, concluded Edward. India’s RAW knew what Balasingham had suggested and what the LTTE were planning to do.  (Continued)

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