Burning of Jaffna Public Library

Collective Memory

An archive, library or museum can have an acquisition of various kinds of documents and artefacts – they are contemporary documentation that becomes historical documentation – the archives. They can be the primary sources of information or evidence. The archives at these institutions contribute to increased democratisation and strengthen the right to information of individuals, groups, organisations and the nation. This is one of the fundamental human rights – “Access to information” and “Freedom of information” – These are compounds in “Freedom of expression”. This can mean a spectrum of freedom of information, freedom of expression, the right to preserve cultural history, and the right to be forgotten.
Apart from archives at an archive, library and museum being the primary sources for information and evidence, they are a collective memory that has a role as personal, emotional, and spiritual possession and bond in the everyday life of the people.

“Burning of Jaffna Library – a symbol of collective memory” (BK,31.05.2022)

Historically, Eelam Tamils have tragic memories of the loss of both contemporary documentation and historical documentation. On 31st May-01st June 1981, the Sri Lankan State sponsored the burning of the Jaffna Public Library and the destruction of the office of Eelanadu Newspaper (ஈழநாடு பத்திரிகை). The Jaffna Public Library housed 97,000 unique books and manuscripts. Jaffna Public Library was one of the famous libraries in South Asia that preserved unique materials.

The burning of the Jaffna Library is an act of cultural genocide. It can be seen as a symbolic event of loss of contemporary documentation, historical documentation, and collective memory, as well as denial of access to information and freedom of information of Tamil people.


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