5 April, 2020

Blog

Who Burnt The Jaffna Library?

By Carlo Fonseka –

Prof. Carlo Fonseka

Preliminaries

The striking front cover of the Memoirs of Edward Gunawardena proclaims that among the “tidbits” of his memorable, eventful life of some 78 years, is the story of the Jaffna Library Fire. To call the story of the Jaffna Library Fire a “tidbit” is a bit like calling Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II “Liz”, but let that go. The Jaffna Library Fire is surely the major public event documented in this book. EG was our man on the spot and he was an eye-witness to the event. Chapter XI titled: Who burnt the Jaffna library? gives a clear, authoritative and comprehensive account of the Jaffna Library Fire. It riveted my attention. It disabused my mind of an illusion, or rather I should say, a delusion. In psychiatry, a delusion is defined as a false belief persisted in despite evidence to the contrary. I now think that the period in question was one in which “the time was out of joint” in our country and EG was born to set the historical record right. Owing to my delusion that it was Minister Gamini Dissanayake who burnt the Jaffna Library, I became guilty of an act which will remain a permanent source of regret in my life. Allow me to use the privilege of appearing on this platform to try and make amends for the injustice I inflicted on Minister Gamini Dissanayake. But before doing so, let me say a few words about other matters in the Memoirs of EG.

Biographgy

The facts of the life and work of my distinguished, scholarly, policeman friend are engagingly narrated as part of the social history of our country in his extremely readable Memoirs. Edward is, I should say, an out and out Josephian, having entered the “baby class” of St. Joseph’s College in January 1939 and left it in December 1952 to enter the Arts Faculty of the University of Ceylon Peradeniya during the period when Sir Ivor Jennings was its Vice Chancellor. I joined St. Joseph’s College in 1947 and got to know Edward in secondary school. At University Edward read Geography and excelled in it and graduated with honors in 1957. After a brilliant interview which he recounts modestly, he was chosen to the Police Department and he entered the Police Training School in 1958. After a very fruitful, eventful, and distinguished career he took early retirement from the Police as Senior DIG in 1987. Along the way he went on a Fulbright Scholarship to Michigan State University and earned a Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice. As most of us here know, Edward is a very literate man with a straightforward, graphic English style. In 2001 he published a sprawling novel called “Blood & Cyanide” on the theme of life and love and strife in our upper-class, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-cultural society. The novel deserves to be much better known than it is. In my judgment EG is the most literate IGP Sri Lanka never had!

Changing World

EG’s Memoirs give a liberal, educated, cosmopolitan man’s insight into the “interesting times” we lived through in the 20th century. By now things have changed drastically from the time most of us here in this audience were born in the 1930s. Attitudes have changed; so have the landscape and the environment and even the weather! But the cobbler must stick to his last. So as a retired medic and the current Chairman of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol, allow me to abuse the privilege of this platform to remind you that the majority of us here will die, as we all must one day, of one of the four major Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs). These are cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung diseases. There are four major causative factors of these NCDs- unhealthy diet, lack of physical exercise, tobacco use and alcohol abuse. I noted from pages 271 and 274 of Edward’s Memoirs that as a young man he was in the habit of drinking a little wine and beer. That was and is not illegal, and as we can all see from his robust appearance, Edward has manifestly not abused alcohol. At page 283 he tells us that he lit a cigarette in his office. Today smoking is widely recognized as the most preventable cause of disease and death and smoking in a government office in Sri Lanka is illegal. This law is generally observed. So there are definite improvements in our country. It has not gone wholly to the dogs as some grumpy political animals are heard to cry.

Arson

Finally let me come to the burning question in this book: Who burnt the Jaffna Library? EG a Master of Science in Criminal Justice has marshaled the evidence to demonstrate beyond any manner of doubt that it was the LTTE that master-minded this crime against civilization. Why did the LTTE do it? Evidently to prove to the world that Sinhalese Buddhists are barbarians. By and large the world believed the LTTE propaganda. Because at that time I was anti-government and because I felt that the UNP – government in power was anti-Tamil (it had unleashed violence on them in 1977 and 79 and 81) I readily believed that Mr.Gamini Dissanayake was the villain who had got the Jaffna library burnt. So during the 1994 presidential election campaign I verbally crucified Mr.Gamini Dissanayake for the crime which I believed he committed. Now after reading Edward’s account I have realized that I committed that atrocity because I believed the absurdity that Gamini Dissanayake burnt the Jaffna Library. Let me spell out the way in which I came to excoriate Mr. Dissanayake.

“Murder”

In 1993 I read a poem titled “Murder” on the burning of the Jaffna Library. It was published in the Ceylon Medical Journal as a filler. I gathered that it was an English translation of a poem written by M.A. Nuhman, who was at that time a Senior Lecturer in Tamil in the University of Peradeniya. I was greatly moved and touched by the poem. It goes like this:

Last night

I had a dream

Lord Buddha was shot dead

by the police-

guardians of the law.

 

His body lay drenched in blood

on the step

of the Jaffna Library

Under cover of darkness

came the ministers.

 

“His name-not in our lists

Why did you him?”

they ask in anger.

 

“No, sirs, no

There was no mistake.

 

Without bumping him off

it was impossible

to harm even a fly.

 

Therefore…,” they stammered.

 

“Okay, okay,

Hide the corpse.”

 

The ministers vanish.

 

The men in civvies

dragged the corpse

 

into the library.

 

They heaped the books,

rare and valuable,

ninety thousand in all.

 

They lit the pyre

with the Cikalokavada Sutta.

 

Thus the remains

Of the Compassionate One

were burned to ashes

along with the Dhammapada.

I don’t know why but I felt an impulse to translate this poem into my mother tongue and I did so. The translation was lying somewhere in a file. In the run-up to the presidential election between Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mr. Gamini Dissanayake I campaigned vigorously for CBK. I concluded my speech which was repeated at least 30 times in different places, by rendering my translation of the poem in dramatic style.

මම දිටිමි සිහිනයක් ඊයේ රෑ
මරන ලදහ බුදුහිමියෝ වෙඩි තබා
නීතිය රකින පොලිසිය විසින්
ලෙයින් පෙගුණු ශ්‍රී දේහය
වැතිර තිබිණි
යාපා පටුනේ පුස්තකාලය අභියස
පැමිණියහ ඇමතියෝ අඳුරට මුවා වීල
ප්‍රශ්න කළහ කෝපාවිශ්ට වල
,නැත මොහුගේ නම අපේ ලැයිස්තුවේ
වැරදීමක් වෙලාවත් ද?,
,නෑ නෑ ඇමතිවරුනිෟ
වැරදීමක් වෙලා නැහැල
නොයවා මොහු පරලොව
හානියක් කළ හැකි ද කුරා කුහුඹියෙකුටවත් ?,
තැතනූහ පොලිස්කාරයෝ
—හා හරි හරිෟ සඟවාපියව් සිරුර වහා ම,
කියමින් අතුරුදන් වූහ ඇමතියොA
එකෙණෙහි ම ඇදගෙන යනු ලැබිණ ශ්‍රී දේහය
පුස්තකාලය තුළට
සිවිල් ඇඳුමින් සිටි
පොලිස්කාරයෝත
ගොඩගැසූහ දේහය මත පොත්
ඉතා දුර්ලභ ඉතා අගනා
අනූ දහසක්
ඉක්බිති ගිනි තැබූහ චිතකයට
සිඟාලෝවාද සූත්‍රය ගිනි හුල ලෙස ගෙන
මෙසේ ගිනිබත් විය
රන් වන් බුදු බඳ
දම්මපදයත් සමඟ

The poem invariably evoked rapt attention and something like awe. The listeners were primed to receive the message I wished to deliver. With my hands raised above my head in worship I ended my speech in favor of CBK with the incantation:  “මේ මහා ඝාතනයට සම්මාදම් වූ ගාමිŒ දිසානායක මහතා මේ රටේ ජනාධිපති නොවේව”At the height campaign in many places at least a few in the audience responded by saying  සාදු!! සාදු!!

Conclusion

I do not believe for a moment that this “curse” I uttered against Mr. Gamini Dissanayake about 30 times in different places in the country had anything to do with his tragic end. But as I remember well, on the 23rd of October 1994, we started the campaign at Beruwala at about 2.00 p.m. and then I repeated the same speech at several places including Payagala, Wadduwa, Panadura, Moratuwa and Kirulapone. I went to bed tired and exhausted and I was aroused from my sleep in the early hours of the 24th of October to be told that Mr. Gamini Dissanayake had been killed in a bomb blast at Peliyagoda. Ever since that time I have felt a deep sense of remorse because I knew Mr. Gamini Dissanayake well. He was a perfect gentleman. He had never wronged me by word or deed. He was always very courteous to me although we differed politically. Having read Edward Gunawardena’s Memoirs I realize what a crime I had perpetrated against Mr. GD. All I can now do to make amends for the gross injustice I inflicted upon him is to ask Mrs. Srima Dissanayake, Mr. Navin Dissanayake and Dr. Lanka Dissanayake to forgive me because I did not know what I was doing. Indeed, in regard to me, Mr. Navin Dissanayake can act in the compassionate way that Jesus Christ reacted to those who crucified him: “Father, forgive him for he did not know what he was doing”. Let me conclude by thanking my friend Edward Gunawardena for providing me with this opportunity for apologizing abjectly and unconditionally to the Dissanayake family.

*Text of Carlo Fonseka’s prepared speech delivered at the Mahaweli Centre on 19 January 2013, launching the MEMOIRS OF EDWARD GUNAWARDENA. Published by the Author. Battaramulla. 2013. 390 pages with photographs and appendices

Related posts;

May 31-June 4 1981: Five Days Of State Terror In Jaffna by Santasilan Kadirgamar

State Repression With Focus On War Crimes by S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

MR Finishing JR’s Relay, Bodu Bala Sena At Temple Trees, And Fire-Walking Over The Jaffna Public Library by Rajan Philips

Burning Memories – Jaffna Library- 31st May 1981

Ethnic Conflict And Literary Perception: Tamil Poetry In Post-Colonial Sri Lanka by M A Nuhman

 

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Latest comments

  • 1
    0

    The statues of Auvvair – tamil poetess, and Mahatma Ghandi – were “beheaded” on the same day of the Jaffna Library fire.
    Ministers Gamini Dissabnayake and Cyril Mathew were at the resthouse on that day.
    The town had many policemen and armymen roaming the roads.
    LTTE could/would never have been there.
    Drunken policemen set fire to the library – many eye witness accounts say so.
    It was a sudden non preplanned act.

    • 0
      0

      justice

      “LTTE could/would never have been there.”

      I hate to agree with you.

      It was not LTTE which set fire to the library but Amirthalingam then opposition leader. He should be held responsible for burning down the library under the direction S J Selvanayakanm of course from his grave.

      At the time of the incident entire Jaffna police station which is only two minutes walk away from the library was closed for renovation and they were functioning from nearby Colombo Headquarters.

      Amirthalingam single handedly prevented the public from dowsing the fire. Now that we have the facts Mohan Peris must sit on the bench and pronounce his judgement against Amir, Selva and the entire members of TULF of which Sampanthan was also a member.

      Now I know pigs can fly.

      • 0
        0

        Oops this doddering geriatric, Carlo has lost the plot!
        The other doddering geriatric who has lost the plot is non other than the Prime Minister of the wonder of asia

    • 0
      0

      LTTE did more atrocities than that.LTTE killed many educated Tamils and they never cared about education or books.Ignorant and power hungry as well as greedy LTTE never done anything for poor Tamil people.Like the massacre in Anuradhapura Sri Maha Bodiya(according to USA the massacre was carried by the instruction of RAW of India).The RAW wanted a big turmoil and a racist clash between Singhalese and Tamils so the LTTE can win the support Internationally.They were cunning and deceiving and cheated poor Tamils.Singhalese never wanted to burn such a place.

  • 0
    0

    I just remembered the story I read years before.

    Two persons went before a justice,One person complained that the other one had bitten his nose .Other person denied the charge and replied that the injured person had bitten his own nose himself and trying to framing him.Astonished by this argument the judge asked “how it is possible for a person to bite his own nose when the nose is just above his mouth?”
    The person replied “It is very simple, he stepped up on a stool and bite himself.

  • 0
    0

    The LTTE did a lot of atrocities including war crimes but I cannot believe what Carlo now says.Also it is difficult to believe a man like Gamini Dissanayake instigated the burning but Syril Mathew was an ultra racist and he could well be the man behind the burning of the library.The policemen are very clever at framing others for crimes.

    • 0
      0

      Then what the fxxxxx was your ultra-liberalist Gamini Disanayakka doing at the Jaffna resthouse with an ultra-racist Syril Matthew?

      • 0
        0

        Oh, they were making hoppers together

    • 0
      0

      Carlo must be waiting for a post fom Navin’s ministry.

  • 0
    0

    It will be far better if you shut up than disgrace your own place in history.
    I am ashamed of myself now for respecting Carlo as an intellectual (at least during my school days) Under Rajapakse regime, it seems many former ‘academia’ such as Carlo and Nalin have become disposable commodities at the feet of the rulers

    • 0
      0

      Sinhala Bauddhaya

      I hear that some of the books and ola manuscripts are being stored at a storage facility by one who participated in the arson attack. He is a well known politician in North Western province.

      • 0
        0

        Native Vedda,

        It is time you revealed the identity of this person, who you have alluded several times in the past. If these manuscripts can be yet recovered, it will be a redeeming moment in a very sad story. Of course the individual , if living or his descendants may choose to burn this treasure , rather than be exposed.

        Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

        • 0
          0

          Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

          Yes I have commented on the heinous cultural genocide in the past.

          However this is a matter for UNP to acknowledge and the state to prosecute the criminals for both knew the facts behind the arson.

          All the state to do is to make an offer the arsonist can’t refuse. Confession can be traded for amnesty.

          Though I visited the library only on few occasions somehow the memory lingers on. This was a cultural genocide which can be forgiven but not easily forgotten.

          The onus is on the state to investigate further for it has the resources. SLFP has to speak to its supporters in the North Western Province.

          Now that the Policeman has exonerated the suspect and which is supported by an prominent “intellectual” hoping that the whole issue can be brushed aside, nothing tangible will happen.

          You are mistaken if you believe the state, its rulers and their cronies are interested in salvaging the lost books and ola manuscripts. They are all in it together therefore it is their duty to cover up the whole thing irrespective of who did what on that day.

          The SLFP, UNP, the armed forces and the thugs have the information, what is lacking is the will and need for a complete investigation.

          • 0
            0

            Native Vedda,

            You should at least name him to shame him, if you hold no hope for recovering the manuscripts.

            Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

            • 0
              0

              Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

              I was told that this issue was discussed in the North West Provincial council monthly meeting in mid July 2009 or there about. In the same week a Sinhala Language paper picked up the story and reported it with details.

              I was unable to get a copy of the issue.

              Now I have given you enough information it is up to the Tamil and Sinhalese people to pursue the matter.

              The Provincial Council would have recorded the details in its minutes.

            • 0
              0

              Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

              “You should at least name him to shame him, if you hold no hope for recovering the manuscripts.”

              I don’t have all their names to shame them, at present they number roughly about 20 million.

      • 0
        0

        NV:”He is a well known politician in North Western province.”

        For sometime I notice our journalist in exile living on UK tax payers blessings acknowledge only 2 languages Sinhala and English While not even publishing Anglo-French or Anglo-Spanish phrases neither Spanish nor French spoken by majority of the nations. Is CT another setup by ranilee and r-passa just like the diplomatic status given to war criminals? No wonder most Tamils see CT in a different way.

  • 0
    0

    Whatever people may write, I feel that all these acts were done by the govt of the times. The fact is that the culprits were never apprehended or punished. The lack of action by the police and govt indicates the complicity of politicians in these crimes. Same trend continues today with all sorts of cover ups and intrigues. Justice is now a dead letter in Sri Lanka.

    • 0
      0

      My dear Safa

      This man is a Paranoid Schizophrenic. You must take anything this man says with a grain of salt.

  • 0
    0

    Gamini Dissanayake was not involved in the burning of the Jaffna Public Library. The late A.Amirthalingam, the late M.Sivasithamparam, the late V.Yogeswaran and the late Kumar Ponnampalam were fully aware that Gamini Dissanayake has no hand in it at all. It was very unfortunate that Gamini Dissanayake landed in Jaffna from helicopter at that crucial hour. In fact, he was taken by surprise because of this unruly mob. Gamini Dissanayake has personally discussed this matter with me and that he was so said that some elements within the UNP had taken this undue advantage and put the blame on him, having known that his family belonged to the royal group and he himself was a frequent visitor to the library whenever he visited Jaffna. It is Cyril Mathew’s hooligans (who were brought in two buses by a well known Colombo Tamil politician) who became unruly and burnt the Jaffna Public library. Poor Gamini was made a scape goat by some UNP elements. At the same time it should not be forgotten that one of Cyril Mathew’s nieces got married to a top government official from VVT. The DIG in Jaffna knew who the culprit was. Only God knows who burnt the Jaffna Public library.

    • 0
      0

      Citizen

      Please give us a break.

      “God knows who burnt the Jaffna Public library”

      May be.

      This was not a simple operation for Amirthalingam to handle on his own.

      The logistics and actual act would have involved several persons including security personnel.

      The state, establishment and the parties together have been maintaining a deafening silent on this heinous crime against humanity. Some of those who organised and participated in this joint enterprise are still alive.

      The state is trying very hard to cover up the whole issue of this cultural genocide.

      I won’t be surprised if the state, its rulers and their cronies denied they ever burnt the library at all.

      Gota being the boss of Urban Planning he might consider relocating the library to Killinochchi and then say Jaffna never had a library in the first place. How could you burn something that never existed?

      Then he would claim to have built the first Tamil library under Mahinda Chinthana.

      Anything and everything is possible in this island.

    • 0
      0

      Thanks for the clarification. I am more inclined to believe you than EG or Prof CF. Hope people have the courage to speak up and set the record straight even after so many years so that any doubts in the mind of the public are cleared.

      Gamini D was known for his achievement of the Mahaveli Project which fast tracked the country towards development. However what was gained was lost due to these wanton acts by some politicians. I doubt the LTTE would do this.

      • 0
        0

        “His Story” neither You Carlo,or Ted(DIG was Mahendra then)was at the scene so stop blowing the trumpet. The existance of God is not the issue!
        By the way Gamini made money for 5 generations (Dudley) and the cost was beyond 3 times the initial allocation.

    • 0
      0

      While the 1983 riots were raging in Colombo, Gamini Disanayake rushed to JR’s house in Ward Place and demanded that JR take action to eliminate the Tamils. This was in the presence of senior Tamil public servants who had taken refuge in JR’s house. A shocked JR asked him how on earth that could be accomplished.

      Gamini Diaasanayake also held meetings in the irrigation department, to which Tamil officers were not invited, on how to colonise the border areas between the north and east with Sinhala colonists.

      Gamini was a baby faced politicians who was corrupt, extreme and dangerous.

      Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

      • 0
        0

        Further to that Renuka Herath had taken precautionary measures in Nuwaraeliya by getting the police to arrest sinhala thugs and keep in custody due to which there was no problem in Nuwaraeliya. On the famous kotiya day Friday Gamini Dissanayake went to Nuwaraeliya by helicopter and got the thugs released and subsequently the Tamil shops and houses were burnt.

      • 0
        0

        Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

        Just after JR’s two anti Tamil statements Gamini issued a statement nastier than the JR’s was broadcast on radio.

        Have you conveniently forgotton?

        His whole life was centered around greed for money and power.

        He continued to undermine Premadasa.

        • 0
          0

          Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

          Sorry the third sentence is not aimed at you.

      • 0
        0

        Even if the ola leaf documents exist, please don’t start a ‘fund’ to preserve them.
        We are still waiting for fund you promised to set up to help the ex CJ

    • 0
      0

      It looks most readers had their minds made up as they saw the incidence and they don’t want to hear any thing different to what they want to believe.

      It looks some Tamils politicians knew the truth and but they did not talk out of fear of repercussions.

      • 0
        0

        Jim softy

        Come on Jimmy,

        The policeman’s book is going to be part of updated Mahawamsa.

        What does motivate you to deny every atrocities committed by the state, its rulers and their cronies?

        If this goes on, one day you might even deny your own existence.

        It does not bother me at all, but it will definitely send shock waves through out the realm of your creditors (those who lent you loans).

  • 0
    0

    While the several recent high profile incidents of volte face are only too well known in Sri Lanka, it is shocking to see Prof Fonseka’s own feeble attempt at recanting his previous statements using the highly questionable evidence he is quoting, of Edward Gunawardena’s memoirs. This does not resonate with his image of a (legendary) teacher, leftist and rationalist; and one has to now wonder what his motives might be. “Watch this space”, I suppose, might be the message, for soon all might be revealed!!

    Interested observers will note that this tactic has now permeated to other countries too, it would seem, as seems evident with the the man who was dragged and beaten by Central Security Forces (CSF) in Egypt (as seen on public Television on Friday night), now telling prosecutors that it was the protesters and not security forces who assaulted him!
    Who says that little Sri Lanka cannot teach died in the wool academics as well as the world a thing or two?!

  • 0
    0

    There is an error when typing the word ‘sad’, which is typed as ‘said’. It should be read as Gamini Dissanayake has personally discussed this matter with me and that he was so sad that some elements within the UNP had taken this undue advantage and put the blame on him, having known that his family belonged to the royal group and he himself was a frequent visitor to the library whenever he visited Jaffna.

    • 0
      0

      Aha, So,Gamini planned his stategy very well eh. Studied the layout, peak times etc before carrying out the torching. Otherwise, what interest does a hard-core sinhala nationalist have to do with books and library material in tamil, for him to be a frequent visitor there.

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        Time and again, I like to re-iterate that Gamini Dissanayake had no hand in the burning of the Jaffna Library. He was the only politicians to settle the ethnic issue on a Federal basis. He discussed this matter with me as well as with the Tamil politicians. Amirthalingam, Sivasithamparam and Yogeswaran who were aware of it. Racism is for political gain usually adopted by politicians, like lawyers of opposition parties having tea or lunch at the canteen, after the case is over. The strategic plan of Gamini Dissanayake was to make Sri Lanka a Federal State, which then would have been supported by democratic countries around the world. If not for short-sighted Premadasa and the LTTE, Sri Lanka would have been a paradise by now and even the Sinhalese (including the Sinhalese politicians) would be enjoying the taste of Federalism. Even Mrs.G.Dissanayake contested the Presidential election banging on the Federal system for Sri Lanka. It is easier to put the blame on Gamini, but the real crook is Cyril Mathew and his JSS men, who were indirectly encouraged by some unscrupulous officers, both in the Armed Forces and some selfish politicians.

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          No one says Gamini Dissanayaka was responsible for burning Jaffna Library. But he was physically present in Jaffna when violence was let loose. He never took any step to stop it. Though he knew who the culprits were he remained silent. It is a well known fact the government took JSS thugs as election workers to disrupt the elections, and took a load of Sinhala policemen from the south for election duties with a plan to unleash violence. Burning of Jaffna public library was a planned one to destroy ancient ola leaves.

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            Had this prominent Tamil politician from Colombo not transported these two bus loads JSS thugs, would anyone dare to burn the Jaffna Public Library. After transporting the bus loads of JSS thugs, this Colombo Tamil politician had quietly slipped from Jaffna to Colombo and poor Gamini Dissanayake was blamed.

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              One more addition. There were rumours that this Colombo Tamil politicians had secret links with the LTTE.

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    Late Mr. Gamini Dissanayake gentleman in politics. He always respect the views & knowledge of others. Even Dr. Carlo will come to political stage if gambler paid well.Most of the artist are no basic knowledge & most of them are traitors.These all people with JR when JR doing wrong things.

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    What the good Doctor prescribes for one among the many monumental tragedies of our times is pitiable. The fact remains that a national treasure was destroyed in an orgy of reprisal. Let’s assume for a moment that it was the work of the Tigers. The capable cop that Mr. Edward Gunawardene was, has found a motive for such a dastardly act. The Tigers knew the value of the library and if they did what is attributed to them, they started their path to self-destruction as early as the 1980! Were they paranoid enough to risk the wrath of the many that supported them, particularly the literati, whom they desperately needed in their formative years? Would one think this explanation plausible?

    On the other hand no one has explained to us why despite the presence of government heavyweights in Jaffna at that time, the destruction of this treasure could not be prevented. Though I lived in Jaffna at that time on official assignment, I do not recall if there was a night time curfew imposed on that day. However there was a heavy presence of police and all vehicles entering Jaffna were checked. I have been stopped on many occasions near the clock tower; the vicinity of the library invariably had a heavy security presence. Despite the explanations one question that hangs in the air unanswered and without which we cannot bring closure is this, “Was there absolute neglect?”. Did we not put any value on the library because it was theirs and not ours? Where was the firefighting equipment? Who was responsible for the security of the town at that time and was he reprimanded?
    The ageless Dr. Fonseka could have on reflection and the luxury of wisdom that accrues in hindsight, see merit in tendering an apology to one who was at least a provocative, and vocal advocate of anti-minority sentiment. That is his right and I have no grouse with what he did. However I am saddened with the reasons attributed to the apology. We as a nation cannot absolve ourselves of this tragic incident in our history. Instead of apportioning blame and shielding culprits we must, as a nation, atone.

    M Y Foote

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      M Y Foot

      I share your sadness.

      There is something fundamentally wrong with the people.

      Perhaps they are becoming stupider by the second.

      I have always ask commentators in this forum to name one person who is not stupid either among Tamils or Sinhalese.

      I am afraid I am going to hit the bucket without meeting such great people from either community.

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    The culprit under a heavy cloud wrote some gibberish to salve a troubled conscience. He thought that the credentials of the professor would dispel the cloud. All what has happened is that the professor has lost his credibility for ever. With their native instinct and cranial intelligence the people have been too smart for the policeman and the professor.

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      You are right. Edward Gunawardena is a culprit. He was one of the high ranking police officers who addressed a bunch of Sinhala policemen brought from the south under the pretext of election duties, at the Jaffna fort previous night. No Tamil policemen serving in Jaffna was allowed to attend this meeting. In this meeting these policemen were instructed to run riot promising impunity, which proves that there was no inquiry held or perpetrators arrested.

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    Oh my God! Reading this piece, I dread to think of what the state of the country would be if that arsonist had won the presidential election instead of the Bandit Queen.

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    ///Dear Ed: Please replace with this, thanks///

    While the several recent high profile incidents of victims of crime doing a major volte face are only too well known in Sri Lanka, it is shocking to see Prof Fonseka’s own feeble attempt at recanting his previous statements using the highly questionable evidence he is quoting, of Edward Gunawardena’s memoirs. This does not resonate with his image of a (legendary) teacher, leftist and rationalist; and one has to now wonder what his motives might be. “Watch this space”, I suppose, might be the message, for soon all might be revealed!!

    Interested observers will note that this tactic has now permeated to other countries too, it would seem, as seems evident with the the man who was dragged and beaten by Central Security Forces (CSF) in Egypt (as seen on public Television on Friday night), now telling prosecutors that it was the protesters and not security forces who assaulted him!
    Who says that little Sri Lanka cannot teach died in the wool academics as well as the world a thing or two?!

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    Carlo having already degraded himself as a bootlicker continues to slide down the slope in full view of some of us who valued him as a forthright and truthful academic.
    Here is a well a documented eye witness account of a police officer who is too scared to divulge his identity. I cannot blame him in a land where even the CJ is not safe.

    “I am an eye witness to the buring of Jaffna Public Library.
    On 31st May 1981, I was functioning as Acting HQI of Jaffna Police Station.
    At about 7.00 – 7.30pm, from the Police Station we noticed heavy smokes emerging from the Library building,
    and we knew that the Library building is being set on fire.
    At that moment DIG-Northern Range-Mr P Mahendran was at the police station and ordered me to take a police party to the Library immediately. I then promptly rushed with a police party comprising of 2 Sub Inspectors and about 10 Constables.
    We rushed on foot as the Library is only about 250 yards away from the station.
    As we approached a few yards from the Library building, I noticed about 30 Army personnel in uniform inside the building.
    They were pulling down the books from the shelves and setting them on fire.
    On seeing the police party, one army officer came out followed by few other army personnel pointing their AK47 rifles towards us
    and shouted in a rough tone in sinhala that everything is under control and ordered us to get back to the police station.
    I then immediately contacted DIG and advised him of the situation. DIG then reluctantly advised us to get back to station.
    After about half an hour from the police station we noticed the whole Library building being set on fire.
    DIG tried his best to contact the army top brass who were in Jaffna to inform them of the situation, but to no avail.
    If the police party had taken any action against the army personnel, I don’t think I will be alive today to narrate this story!
    It was a tragic scene I had to witness haplessly.”

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      Most SL academics are opportunist and in their old age they belch fat and cling on to high positions expecting more like Dayan, Rajiva, and G.L. etc. I met Ted at a social in Jan83 and I noticed he approved the release of a top Colombo businessman (import/export commission agent) who was taken in by TID on the assurance given by a Sinhala/Tamil Attorney but not Chandrahasa’s plea.

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    Carlo Fonseka, the Shameless Sycophant, found yet another means of sucking up to a family that is now a part of the larger Rajapaksa family. Gamini Dissanayake was an out-and-out racist and nobody need apologise to him for making an accusation that has been confirmed by those without an axe to grind with Dissanayake but who had a good grasp of the facts. The fact that this genius of a policeman had Fonseka as the keynote speaker at his memoir-launch speaks far louder than words about the company that these people keep and the stories they spin within their mutual-admiration society!

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    [Edited out] fonseka, we wern’t born yesterday to believe your crap. whatever you say the fact of the matter is sinhala scum burnt down the library. sinhala pariah dissanayake, the scum paid the price for his crime. end of the story.

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    A third class sycophant of the MR regime, Carlo is engaged in a fence mending exercise. He would continue to blame the late Gamini Dissanayake for this act of arson if the Dissanayakes were still in the UNP. Now that Gamini’s children and his widow are close to his political boss, Carlo must have thought it is good politics to be in their good books. After all, they now have to ride on the same gravy train together, the good professor must have thought that it is better to cultivate their friendship than to be ill at ease in their company. Carlo and others of his ilk at the time of the incident were in a mighty hurry to blame the UNP leaders for the incident. They found it convenient to blame Gamini for very unfortunately he had just arrived in Jaffna soon before or immediately after the incident. Carlo and others like him never cared to find out the truth. They were just happy they had got an effective weapon to attack the UNP with. Carlo is a hypocrite, a shyster ! Is he still a member of the LSSP? Can he hold a candle to an LSSP veteran like Lal Wijenayake?

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    Prof . Carlo Fonseka,

    Please do not tread where even the angels would fear to! You are about to lose the formidable reputation you built over decades as a physiologist and rationalist. You are a fast bowler by nature and not a spinner. Do not try to become what you are not. Your unquestioning acceptance of Edward Gunawardene’s spin, has badly boomeranged.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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    The whole package of anti-Tamil policy had been originiated by UNP-JRJ regime since 1977 to 1983.The bunch of UNPers must be accountability of such inhuman crimes of past against Tamil community;but US,UK Japan EU and INDIA was overlook and IGNORE TOTALLY under UNP regime.
    Because,UNP is friendly with political economical and social policies of Neo Liberalism of vested interest in Hegemony of WESTERN Nations.
    The western Nation lectured countries all around the world about ‘Human Rights’,’Democracy’,’Equalty for all Ethanic groupes’,’Judicial Indepandence’ and ‘War Crimes’ and about good instituatios, fair and sustianable economy.
    When that come under UNP regime of 1977 to 1994 in a democracy where there are high level massacre of Tamils race, by JRJ regime ( anti Tamil riots 1977 August,1979 1981 Jaffana Libiary-Burn and 1983 July riots))West kept silent!
    Why? This reckless PATH the UNP took anathema to those who want to see undermine Unity,Sovergenity and Terroial Intergrity and peceful co-exsistence of all Races in our Island.The high level of inequality of RACIAL GROUPES,political can be unblanced,too,the combination of unblanced of RACE of ETHINICITY, & POLITICS managing goverance an unblanced the very Economy had been be lethal in Sri Lankan since 1977 to 1994.This way did allow and an open path for Foreging interevation Sri Lankan Indepandence and sovergenity nation.
    The irony is that while under UNP regime inequlity of races give rise to instabilty and lead to war,itself gives rise to more INEQUALITY ,one of vicious cycles that undermine very foundation tiny nation political-democratic Order.
    Dr Carlo Fonseka comment of apology issue of Gamani Dissnayake which that I understood,but crux of matter is Gamani was in politically part and parcle of whole packeage of UNP’s anti-Tamil set of policies introduced by UNP.
    Neddless to say late Gamani Dissnakyake has to undertake responsibilty of such crime NOT as individual, but as one of ring Leader UNP at that time. NO BODY CAN ESCAPE FROM PUNISHMENT OF HISTOTY.

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    I have lost respect for Carlo Fonseka after this. It is well known that the then UNP government sent JSS thugs as election officers to disrupt the Jaffna district council elections in 1981. Both Gamini Dissanayake and Cyril Mathew were present in Jaffna to supervise this. There was a meeting of Sinhala Police officers in Jaffna fort previous night where high ranking Sinhala police officials including the author of the book briefed them about causing disturbances on the day. Ballot boxes went missing carried away by JSS thugs, which could not have been done by LTTE. The Jaffna library was deliberately burnt by Sinhala racists to destroy the ancient ola leaves of historical and archaeological value which were standing in the way of Sinhala racist claim that there was no Tamil civilization in Jaffna in the distant past. Also TULF office, office of Eelanadu press, and home of Jaffna MP were burnt and he had to jump over the wall to escape. All these were done with Police actively participating, which the LTTE could not have done. The fact that There was no inquiry or culprits arrested goes to prove that it was government sponsored. Therefore to come out now with a different story now is a blatant lie and erodes the credibility of the author who is a well known Sinhala racist. This is like saying JVP and not LTTE bombed Dalada Maligawa. I feel sorry for Carlo Fonseka who was my teacher at Medical School, to descend to this low level, perhaps senile dementia has caught up on him.

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    I find Carlo’s arguments puerile. Carlo seems to be suggesting that since this EG holds an MSc in Criminal Justice, he ought be believed. If he wants us to, at least, give his gibberish some thought, he should have presented the evidence ‘EG marshaled that demonstrate beyond any manner of doubt that it was the LTTE that master-minded this crime against civilization’.

    Get a life Carlo.

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      The Real Tamil

      Is he the eminent Carlo Fonseka?

      Are you sure he is not the Carlos the Jackal?

      Sorry I am confused all the time.

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    Maybe CT could publish some of the findings of early investigations like MIRJE’s. And didnt an official investigation into a number of happenings over several years touch on the burning of the library too? I wonder what the real motives are for blaming this on the LTTE after all these years. Who is scratching whose back and why? One or two things occur to me.

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    It is an indictment to the times we live in to see a shameful and unwaranted addendum to the ancient Mahawansa. In this new diabolic twist to re-write real and imagined events of millenia gone by, much will be constructed to the fancy and political persuasions of the writer to alter historical events. Who was responsible for the buning of the Jaffna Library and who were the engineers of this enormous conspiracy is known – by confirmed legal inquiry, on evidence of witnesses and other. It was not questioned for decades until this policeman comes along and tries to erase from memory the fiendish role he played when he was in control. To accuse the LTTE, which had no weight at that time or to invent the jaundiced imaginary input “it was a Colombo Tamil politician” who did it are all shallow endeavours to rudely change the record of what really happened. That the leaned Prof
    Carlo Fonseka – a favouite speaker, writer, rational thinker of mine –
    has willingly become part of this chauvinistic cabal certainly does not add to the intellectual integrity this country maintained for long. Posterity will study this event with the same contempt as it will the Sinhalisation of the Hindu Holy site of Kadirgamam, in the vicinity of the borders of the Eastern Province – a long Tamil majority area. Kadirgamam (Kataragama) was recognised by all communities as a place of Hindu worship till the juggernaut of Sinhala majoritarianism stepped in there post-1956 and changed the face of
    the temple site. Murder, assault, intimidation and thuggery were all
    used to change the facade from then to now.

    Carlo Fonseka will be remembered by history as those giants of the LSSP
    (of which he was part) who held on stubbornly to principles and caved in to to be seduced by the trappings of office and opportunistic
    collusion.

    Senguttuvan

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    ‘Silenced Truth’ quotes the acting HQI “I am an eye witness….”. How much credibility can this officer have? V. Yogeswaran MP told me this. On the fateful night, policemen in uniform and in civies burnt down his house. The HQI WHOM HE KNEW WELL PERSONALLY WAS ON THE SPOT COMMANDING THE OPERATION. Distance in time does not blur the truth. For almost 32 years I never spoke or wrote about this. An officer of lily white innocence rushing to the library provides the occasion when he makes a virtue of it. He was very sure that after burning the MP’s house he “will be alive to narrate this story”.

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    Carlo Fonseka is trying to rewrite history!

    He has now become a shameless worshipper of Rajapaksa and an openly racist propagandist for the regime and the Sinhala racists. Gamini Dissanayake was widely known to be an anti-tamil racist and his involvement in the burning of the Jaffna library is well known. Like many others associated with the regime, revision of history and sinhalisation of the north and East are going apace hand in hand. Not just the tamils but many decent sinhala people will also find Carlo Fonseka’s opinion on this matter utterly repugnant.

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    I wish to add a little more to what I have already said. It is quite possible that some UNP leaders who were in Jaffna to create mayhem were responsible for this despicable act of arson. I think Tamil sources are more credible.We should try to find out the truth- to ascertain as to who were really behind it! There is no sense in whitewashing whom we like and blaming whom we hate!

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      Saman Wijesiri, you are coming to the point. During the Colombo Municipal Election, there were Tamil pamphlets as to who was instrumental for transporting the JSS thugs to Jaffna. When things became out of control and was unable to prevent the burning of the Jaffna Public Library, he slipped to Colombo quitely. Later, it is this Tamil politician who had links with the LTTE – may be for his vested interests, but he was dead against the Tamil Parties. It should not be forgotten that LTTE began murdering Tamil Parliamentarians one by one, while the other Tamil groups began murdering prominent citizens in Jaffna. Cyril Mathew and some prominent Sinhalese Officers took this opportunity to utilize the JSS thugs which is also a type of State sponsored terrorism. This is the danger when terrorism rears its ugly head, when unscrupulous politicians want to gain cheap popularity. Remember, it is Gamini Dissanayake who provided his private securities to Amirthalingam, Sivasithamparam and Yogeswaran, when R.Premadasa was having a honey moon with the LTTE. So it has to be analyzed carefully. Majority of the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim are against the burning of the Jaffna Public Library.

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    Please be good enough UNDERSTAND other People to majority of Sinhalese Community are NOT ANTI-TAMILS or Muslims.They were accomodated Tamils in and out Sinhalese community ,very nook and corner of this Island; many Tamils and Muslims living harmony.
    I too is NOT anti-tamil or Muslims since our childhood,in politically,Socially and Ideolegoally.
    The crux of matter after Independence 1948,(Ceylon)-Sri Lanka,our old generation of most Political Leader,Parties and leading social Groupes of political Elties had not concucens and delibraion on how to BUILDING DEMOCRATIC STATE, after post-Independence ERA?
    UNP as political Party lack Natioanl agenda was to replace colonial-system build New Democratic SYSTEM with challanges new ERA? By and larage UNP was visionless, Rule and Govermeance challenges of change new situation face by race, ethnicity and social class in Ceylon.
    SLFP under SWRD Banadarake since 1956,initiated and undertake social changes,but they were unable identif re-buildiing post-Colonial Sri Lankan under New Path of Capitalist democratic.
    Left political parties totally blind and dark National Quesation except Parity of All races and ‘euqality’ only sloagn put-forwared by Old Left Politicians.They were visionless of ground that time ,on social classes,races and huge majority RUARL POOR of major part an Island oppressed by colonial rule under 425 years.
    Leadres of LSSP of Trostkist,confined to labours and plantaion workers,and totally denied decisive factor of TASK OF BOUGEOISIE DEMOCRATIC REVOLUATION under the New path of Capitalism.
    There are moments in history when people Sri Lanka, seem to rise up aginst Colonial wrong to ask for change. Each of these years of uphevalas marked the begining after Indepaedance of New Era had been not undertake by Old Left political parties. Lost of own mission of Democratic task by Old Left while specifie politiacl grievances of Tamils and Muslims ,left unknownly and adonded by political programes and action for Natioal Task by natioal politiacl parties and Old left.
    In my view there was a common understanding that in many ways the economic and political system under the UNP and SLFP had failed and that both were fundamently were for unfair Tamils Natioanl Problems.

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    Raja (Feb 3 – 12.19 pm) Sharing your own thoughts, Minister
    Gamini L – the notorious gangster and thug of Piliyandala will know much. He was there – leading the JSS thugs as frontman of Cyril Mathew. No wonder Kumar David calls Policeman Edward G a double-tongued liar.

    Senguttuvan

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    The true colours of Carlo as a psycho-sociopath were discernible as early as the early 60’s. At a Rationalist Association monthly meeting at the Thurston College Hall, where the then president Kovoor was exposed by me for the deceit he perpetrated on the membership and public of an unknown and unnamed swami coming to perform some miracle that day. Kovoor was flustered and pleaded with those present that he loved them. Then a visitor to this gathering stood up from the audience told him “you can love us but don’t deceive us”.

    I was terminated from my membership without due process. Kovoor continued to speak to me without animosity and reduced his challenge for standing on a red hot brick time to 30 seconds from a minute based on my personal painful experiment at Carlo’s physiology theatre fire walking fire-bed.

    Kovoor had on previous meetings tendentiously wanted Carlo to succeed him as the president. Eyeing this position Carlo tried to defend Kovoor that day that, I in disgust and as a mark of protest walked out through the low French window of this hall as the police were guarding the exits to this venue’s tamasha and hype to enlist more members for the association.

    For authenticity and verification the above anecdote, the Ceylon Evening Observer reported on page three under a caption or title that was like (As I cannot remember the exact words) “The Rationalist Association meeting starts on the note of a miracle and ends with Kovoor’s black magic” where-in I was referred to as the “ founder member heckler”.

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    I think that now Gunawardene and Fonseka have found the evidence that the LTTE was responsible for burning the Jaffna Library,the two of them should investigate the famous Reichstag fire in Berlin.Hitler blamed the Communists but surely he was wrong.It was the LTTE that was responsible and the formidable Sri Lankan duo, one with an Msc in criminal science, no less and another a rationalist would have no difficulty in finding the evidence…

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