"I have a lot of respect for Lovlina Borgohain. My fight is not against her. My fight is against injustice," says Arundhati Choudhary. Through the restless days and sleepless nights she is spending now, however, there is only one scene she is constantly visualising - stepping into the ring to box against the Tokyo Olympics medallist and knocking her out.
Arundhati, the reigning World Youth champion and current Senior National champion, has thrown the gauntlet down by writing a letter to the BFI (Boxing Federation of India) requesting a trial against Lovlina to select India's representative in the 70kg weight division for the World Championships to be held in December this year. India will be represented at this event by all the gold medal winners from the national championships that were held in Hisar last month - except Arundhati, who happens to be in the same weight category as the 24-year-old Lovlina.
"During the national championships, BFI president Ajay Singh assured me that I would get a trial fight against Lovlina before the World Championships. 'First win gold, then come and meet me', he said. Now, some people from the boxing federation are calling me and asking me not to make it an issue that Lovlina is going, but I have lost out. Is there any justice in bringing out team lists in such secrecy?" asks Arundhati.
Arundhati's biggest concern is that if she is not allowed a chance to go to the World Championships this year, there is no competition of a similar stature on the horizon in the next two years.
"Sportspersons have a very short shelf life. A boxer has 5-7 years of peak performance. They destroyed Nikhat Zareen's (who was in the same weight category as Mary Kom) career, taking two years away from me will set me back a lot," says Arundhati, who has been one of the most exciting upcoming talents in Indian boxing in recent years.
Arundhati's irresistible rise
Arundhati competed in the nationals for the first time in 2017 and went on to win the junior title. She has held the junior rank 1 since then. In 2018, she was voted the 'Best Asian Junior Women Boxer'. This year, the 19-year-old played the senior nationals for the first time and won. On the way, she knocked out two opponents and won every other bout by unanimous decision.
"Lovlina will know the reality of the situation the best. If you ask her if she can beat me, her answer can give a clear picture of what is happening. The World Championships are not an easy stage. Lovlina is out of practice. You look at wrestlers like Ravi Dahiya and Bajrang Punia, they are also skipping the Worlds because they are out of touch right now," she says.
Arundhati's father Suresh, who had encouraged his daughter to take up boxing five years ago to channel her aggression from all the fights with boys she was getting into in school, is confident Arundhati will beat Lovlina if given a fair chance. "Lovlina can't stand in front of her," he said.
Ironically, Suresh had encouraged his daughter to take up boxing instead of basketball - Arundhati's chosen sport initially - because he had thought there would be no variables in individual sports like selection on the basis of politics and obligations.
"Inside the ring, only the strenght of your punch should count. Arundhati is a hero in Rajasthan. If the boxing federation does such injustice with her, think about what numerous young girls in Rajasthan will be thinking," he said.
'Even Mary Kom...'
Even Mary Kom, after winning India's first Olympic medal in women's boxing in 2012, competed and subsequently lost a selection trial for a place against Pinki Jangra in the Indian squad for the 2014 Commonwealth Games - her first high-level competition since the Olympics, as Arundhati's letter to the BFI mentions.
In 2019, however, Nikhat Zareen demanded a trial against Mary Kom for a place in the Indian team for the World Championships, but BFI denied this request on the basis of Mary Kom's past achievements. However, when Nikhat made a similar demand before the Olympic qualifiers, BFI agreed to arrange a trial, which Mary won.
Arundhati says all she requests is a similar chance against Lovlina Borgohain.