Regenesis – Book Drive

book drive2Regenesis: new birth, renewal. A book drive will be held at Scarborough Civic Centre on June 1 starting at 3:00 p.m., in memory of the burning of the Jaffna Library on the nights of May 31st and June 1st, 1981. All books will be donated to the SickKids Hospital. 

Destruction of memory, denial of wrong doings, and burying evidence are all part of a systematic genocide. Although it is difficult to erase the memory of an entire ethnic group, one must destroy the root of all possible evidence. The destruction of libraries and museums are examples of genocidal intent. Books are encompassed with symbolic and intellectual significance, making them targets for over 55 centuries. Burning of books can be traced back to 4100-3300 BCE, as it is an easy way to destroy what embodies culture and history. 

Inaugurated on August 1, 1934, from a rented building on Jaffna’s Hospital Street, Jaffna Public Library started off with 844 books and 30 newspapers and periodicals. After moving several times, construction for the library’s permanent abode began in the centre of Jaffna in October of 1959. After raising money and winning the support from the Tamil people, the Jaffna Public Library was no longer an institution; it became a movement. “By 1960, the library had amassed 16,000 books, a major collection of magazines in Tamil and English, and a large collection of manuscripts. Among these were remarkable historical materials such as early colonial accounts of Ceylon and commentaries on Tolkappiyam, the oldest grammar text in the Tamil language.” 

By the late 19th century, Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism started to revive, so the Tamils of the island maintained their strength by identifying themselves with their language, culture, and territory. As the ethnic conflict worsened, tremendous hate on the Tamil civilians arised from the Sinhalese south. On the nights of May 31st and June 1st, 1981, Sinhala police forces set the Jaffna Public Library on fire. 

“1981: The Jaffna Public Library is burnt down by the Sri Lankan armed forces, under the direction of two government ministers, Gamini Dissanayake and Cyril Matthew. On [the night of] 31st May 1981, the crucible of Tamil literature and heritage – the Jaffna Public Library – was set ablaze by state security forces and state sponsored mobs. Over 95,000 unique and irreplaceable palm leaves (ola), manuscripts, parchments, books, magazines and newspapers, housed within an impressive building inspired by ancient Dravidian architecture, were destroyed during the burning that continued unchecked for two nights.” 
The burning of the Jaffna Library was yet another example of the cultural demolition by the Sri Lankan government. This library was known to be the largest in Asia and served great pride to the Tamil community. Even though the Jaffna Library was replaced 20 years later, the Tamils will never forget this horrific event.

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