The Burning of the Jaffna Library

illustration by Joshua McMaster

-June 1st, 1981-

Built in 1933, the Jaffna Library was a symbol of education and tradition to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. The library was home to original versions of historical documents, palm leaf manuscripts, and other archival material documenting the rich political and academic history of Sri Lanka.

While Tamil riots against the Sinhalese government began in the early 70s, the turning point came on May 31st, 1981, when a political rally held by the Tamil United Liberation Front became violent, killing two Sinhalese policeman.

The very next day, an organized mob of Sinhalese (rumored to be police and government sponsored militias) set fire to the library in retaliation.The burning of the library was a devastating symbol of extreme hate towards the Tamil people, and displayed one of the most violent examples of ethnic biblioclasm of the 20th century.