Monday, May 31, 2010

Sir Lanka (for Sri Lanka)

On May 31, 1981, an "organized mob" in Sri Lanka burned the Jaffna public library to the ground after the Tamil United Liberation Front held a rally at which two policemen were killed. A three-day pogrom by police and right-wing paramilitary squads resulted in widespread havoc and ruin. Four citizens were murdered at random, a newspaper office and Hindu temple were reduced to rubble, and cultural artifacts were defaced and destroyed. According to Wikipedia, the burning of the Jaffna library was one of the worst cases of biblioclasm in the 20th century. Tragically, the losses to this library (at the time one of the largest in Asia with over 97,000 unique items) included ancient scrolls and palm leaf manuscripts, local historical records, centuries-old newspapers, and irreplaceable manuscripts. The burning of the library became an important symbol and radicalizing agent for the minority Tamil people who saw it as an attack on their cultural traditions, academic achievements, and very existence. The Jaffna library started off small in 1933 and (under the watchful eye of library icon S.R. Ranganathan) had its first major wing added in 1959. It has had several setbacks and phoenix-like resurrections since then, the latest one being in 2003. Sir Lanka (for Sri Lanka) got ten hits in OhioLINK today, making it a typo of "moderate probability" on the Ballard list.

(Jaffna Public Library, 26 February 2003, from Wikimedia Commons. In front is a statue of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning.)

Carol Reid

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