It was Louis Fischer who in the 1940s wrote about Konstradt. The draconian Soviet
suppression of the sailors revolt on the island of Konstradt near Petrograd during
the revolution in 1917, served to turn many socialist sympathisers away from the Soviet
Union. Louis Fischer commented:
What counts decisively is the Konstradt. Until its advent,
one may waver emotionally or doubt intellectually or even reject the cause altogether in
ones mind and yet refuse to attack it. I had no Konstradt for many
The burning of the Jaffna Public Library by
the Sinhala police on the night of the 1st of June 1981 served as a Konstradt
for many thousands of Tamils who until then had wishfully thought that they
would be able to live with dignity and self respect with the Sinhala people
and that despite everything, answers to problems of discrimination would be
found through the Parliamentary process.
It was not simply that these Tamils were unable to dismiss the attack on the library as
the action of looters and arsonists who had gone out of control. It was not simply that
they knew that looters and arsonists do not usually attack libraries. It was also that
these Tamils knew that the attack was launched by large numbers of Sinhala policemen
whilst senior Government Ministers were in Jaffna, on a special visit, together with a
contingent of high ranking Sinhala security personnel.
Again, though on the previous night i.e. the 31st of May, the policemen had attacked
the Jaffna Market buildings and the house of the Jaffna Member of Parliament, emergency
was not declared. Curfew was not imposed. Strange actions indeed, if, as the Sinhala
Ministers sought to make out later, the Sinhala police had mutinied and were
out of control. Emergency was not declared till after the Library was burnt on
the following night. Furthermore, despite the protestations of the Sinhala Ministers that
the police had gone on a frolic of their own, no inquiry was ever held into the events of
the 31st May and the 1st of June. No effort was made to bring the guilty to justice.
And when the Tamil leader of the opposition sought to bring a motion of no confidence
against the Sinhala Ministers who had been present in Jaffna on those fateful days, the
ruling Sinhala political party pre empted the move by bringing a motion of no confidence
on the Leader of the Opposition! It was reportedly the first and only time that a motion
of no confidence had been moved by a ruling party, on the leader of the opposition in any
parliament, anywhere in the world. A point of order raised against the no confidence
motion was overruled by the Speaker.
And, the debate on the motion was used to launch a well orchestrated campaign of
vitriolic abuse and threats, intended to insult and intimidate the Tamil people, and
subdue their reaction to the events of the nights of the 31st May and 1st June. If the
burning of the Jaffna library was the pre meditated injury that was inflicted on the Tamil
people on the 1st of June, eleven years ago, then the parliamentary debate on the no
confidence motion was the calculated insult that was added to the injury.
But that was not all. As Nancy Murray writes in The State against the Tamils in
Sri Lanka - Racism and the Authoritarian State :
While Sinhalese MPs discussed in parliament how to best kill (the Tamil
parliamentary leaders), Tamil peasants were actually being murdered by organised gangs in
the border areas of Batticaloa and Amparai. During July and August (1981), Tamils in the
East and South, including the hill country plantation workers, were terrorised and made
homeless. Women were raped and at least twenty five people perished. The attacks, many by
well organised goon squads, were widely believed to be directed by members of the ruling
UNP, among them close friends of the President.
Thousands of Tamils, both young and old, were compelled to recognise that
the Sri Lanka Parliament was no place for a Tamil with self respect. They were compelled to face upto
the political reality that the Sinhala government was bent on subjugating
the Tamil people and bending them to its will. Yes, thousands of Tamils, both young and old, had their Konstradt in the
burning of the Jaffna Public Library. And I count myself as one of them.