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Which nation’s team?

It is no accident that Sri Lanka’s cricket team has long been made up mainly of Sinhalese.

Ahead of the World Cup final Saturday, Mel Gunasekera writes for AFP:

While [world record wicket-taker Muttiah] Muralitharan is the only Tamil in Sri Lanka’s team, the Muslim minority is partially represented by opening batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan.

Dilshan, who has a Muslim father and Sinhalese mother, was born Tuwan Mohamed Dilshan but converted from Islam to Buddhism and changed his name.

His manager, Roshan Abeysinghe, said he did it "for personal reasons," adding that Dilshan "wanted a Sinhala identity".

Suraj Randiv, the 26-year-old all-rounder, who made his Test debut against India Saturday, is another of the cricketers who have changed their religion and names before joining Sri Lanka's national team.

Suraj Randiv was previously known as Mohamed Marshuk Mohamed Suraj, but he converted from Islam to Buddhism and changed his name in 2010.

The dominant logic of life in Sri Lanka is explained by scholars Deborah Winslow and Michael Woost in their book ‘Economy, culture, and civil war in Sri Lanka’ (2004, Indiana University Press, p5):

“Over the twentieth century, religion has gained in importance as a marker of ethnicity. Almost all Sinhalese are Buddhists, and most of the Tamils are Hindu, but some of each are Christian. Thus religious divisions have never exactly mirrored ethnic ones.

“However, Sinhalese who are not Buddhist have found it socially and politically expedient to downplay their religious identity and give more emphasis to their Sinhala ethnicity.

“Increasingly since independence in 1948, a single, discrete Sinhalese Buddhist category has been rhetorically opposed to all the rest, who then are, by reduction, not Buddhists, not Sinhala speakers and, in some eyes, not true Sri Lankans.”

As Prof. Sankaran Krishna explains in his book, ‘Postcolonial Insecurities’ (1999, Univ. of Minnesota Press, p31):

“Sri Lanka’s movement from a peaceful, indeed idyllic Ceylon to a synonym for macabre ethnic violence is the story of a majority community’s attempt to fashion a nation in its own image through monopolisation of the state and of the consequent emergence of a secessionist ethnonational movement.”

See also our earlier posts: 

'Strict Criteria' (Dec 2010) and 'Ethnocracy' (Nov 2010)