By L. Murugapoopathy –
When asked, “What would you do if you get ten million?”
“I will build a library.” Said, Mahatma Gandhi
“What would you do if you were stranded on a lonely island?”
“I would live happily with books,” said Jawaharlal Nehru
“Don’t forget to write on my grave, for therein sleeps a bookworm,” said Bertrand Russell.
When asked what the greatest human invention is, “The book,” answered Albert Einstein without a second thought.
“No other freedom is necessary for prisons other than the freedom to read books,” said Nelson Mandela.
When asked what he wanted for his birthday Lenin said without hesitation “A pile of books.”
Whenever Charlie Chaplin, agreed to act in a film which was always for several hundred thousand, he always bought a book from the first hundred of the advance money he received.
“The best gift you could give a child is a book,” said Winston Churchill.
When asked “what are the formidable weapons of struggle.? “Books,” said Martin Luther King.
Bhagat Singh was reading until the very last moment before he was hanged.
“The one who comes to meet me with a good book that I haven’t read is my best friend,” said Abraham Lincoln.
Do the enraged book burners know this information? If not let them know at least now.
The protest that started as “Gota Go” has successfully celebrated its hundredth day. Since this struggle commenced many extraordinary scenes have been staged in the capital and other parts of the country
These scenes include incidences of the burning of houses of those who were part of the Rajapaksa brothers’ regime and their supporters. If the victims have insurance against property damage, they would of course get compensation.
But can the books that were burnt in those houses be recovered…?
Hitler, who was described as a dictator and even a tyrant, told his soldiers during World War II not to attack hospitals, schools and libraries. They were advised not to throw bombs there, so we have read. Even Hitler, who was hell-bent on exterminating the Jews, had such thoughts about books.
However, the Sinhalese religious chauvinists while spreading the message that Buddhism should be protected and maintained and the Buddhist Dharma should be followed, allowed books to be burnt in the presence of those who spread those very messages.
Yet we know very well that some hundred thousand books were burnt to ashes when the Jaffna public library has burnt to the ground 41 years ago in 1981. At present around 2,500 books have been burnt at the Colombo home of the veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe. When we listened to Wickremesinghe’s tearful speech after he watched the burning incident, we were reminded of the Venerable Father David who died of a heart attack soon after the burning of the public library in Jaffna in 1981.
Since these racial riots commenced in 1958 and such riots and arson attacks continued unabated in 1977 – 1981 – 1983 and still continue to happen even in 2022. Does it mean that Buddhism as a religion, philosophy and way of life is dead in this country!?
What crime did the books commit…? Those who burn them even if they are not intelligent people, one would assume that they would have read at least a book or even a newspaper in their lives.? Our forefathers have taught us the age-old tradition and etiquette of touching and worshipping a book by kissing it even if one accidentally happened to step on a book lying on the ground.
Does anyone wonder who taught the tradition of burning books?
Those elements who burn books are akin to those who cremate themselves! Such people have no absolution or salvation for their acts.
It was the police battalion that was sent from Colombo by the then government of JR Jayawardene, on that day in 1981, which was a few days before the District Development Council elections, who ended up torching the Jaffna public library, the Jaffna Eelanadu newspaper office and the Poobalasingam books shop. They also burnt and destroyed a vast amount of wealth including the residence of the then Jaffna member of Parliament, Yogeswaran.
Ranil Wickremesinghe was the education minister at that time. After the arson attack, JR Jayewardene paid compensation for the Jaffna public library destruction. He also ordered a judicial inquiry. The money that was allocated for all this did not come from the pockets of the police. It came from the coffers of the government. It’s people’s money!
Presently Ranil Wickremesinghe’s house and the books therein have now been burnt. He will of course get compensation for it from the government. This again will be paid with peoples’ money.
Don’t these arsonists know about all this…?
Most of the protestors who started the Gota-Go protest at Galle Face were the younger generation born after 1981. There were many university students among them.
The Galle Face protests continued during June. The burning of the Jaffna public library was also remembered. A famous poem written by Professor Nuhman was recited and displayed in all three languages and books were also collected on the occasion. Some of the demonstrators travelled to Jaffna and handed the books over to the Jaffna public library. With this backdrop and even before people could forget these events, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s house in Colombo and its valuable books and paintings were burnt.
Ranil Wickremesinghe tearfully said that the destroyed works included books from the Portuguese-Dutch period and that he and his wife had previously decided to donate the books to many places including the Peradeniya University and the Colombo Royal College.
Unless Sinhalese chauvinism of book burnings and actions to place buddha statues at every location where there is a Bo tree all over the Country are recognised and punished, Buddhism will not thrive in this country.
While Gautama Buddha performs his eternal silent penance as an idol, aren’t the book burnings quite visible to the eyes of the Buddhist monks who go on their walkabouts clad in their saffron-coloured robes? One hopes at least they should take some measures to create awareness among people and reform these illiterates.
*Originally written in Tamil; Translated by Mahroof Noor Mohamed