From mud roads to a paved street, water supply, sports complex: What Lovlina Borgohain's Olympic medal brought her village
Barmukhia's enormous civic troubles appear to be on a path of ending with its star boxer throwing it in the limelight. Nothing has been the same here since the Tokyo Olympics.
Prashant Kumar Das knew that a camp to train young people in a traditional Thai combat art would do well in Assam's Barpathar. But even he did not know that a camp alumna would one day become the first person in the state and only the third boxer in the country to win an Olympic medal.
Lovlina Borgohain was introduced to the Thai sport of Muay Thai by her cousin. But her sporting glory has introduced to her village of Barmukhia, in Assam's Golaghat district, a lot more than basic amenities.
Nothing has been the same since Lovlina won her quarter-final match against Chinese Taipei's Nien-Chin Chen in a split decision of 4-1 and confirmed a bronze medal in the women's welterweight category (64-69kg) in the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year.
The Bridge reached Borgohain's Barmukhia house, at a distance of four kilometers from the nearest town of Barpathar. What connects the two is a dirt road – the same which Borgohain used to take to the Muay Thai camp.
Riding a car or a bike down that road in monsoon was an impossibility. Tiken, Borgohain's father, tells The Bridge, "The condition of roads in our area was pathetic. In her school days, Lovlina travelled with her sandals in one hand and bicycles in another."
On July 30, 2021, the day Borgohain was assured her first Olympics medal, there was heavy rain in Barmukhia. In familiar progression, the road became muddy and unmotorable. But this time around, the public works department (PWD) started its repair work immediately.
Tiken says, "Lovlina is an example of how a player can develop a place through sports. After my daughter qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, gradual development can be seen in our region."
After her Olympic medal, Biswajt Phukan, the newly elected MLA of the Sarupathar constituency assured the Borgohains that the road will be completely renovated and fixed before she arrived home, says Tiken. "After the monsoon season, the construction of the paved path has begun again and is currently underway. The problem of electricity in the village is now fixed and construction on a water supply project is also underway," added the Olympics medallist's father.
In a conversation with The Bridge, MLA Biswajit Phukan said Borgohain is the region's identity now. "In the Sarupathar constituency, we were lagging behind on various infrastructure work including sports. The road to Lovlina's house was a dirt road, which became inaccessible during the rainy seasons, now the construction of a paved road has started there. We are also trying to build a hospital in that area and will continue to work towards the development of this area," Phukan tells The Bridge.
Borgohain's mother Mamoni feels that parents have a role in ensuring success and tenacity in a sportsperson, and eventually, glory for a region and country – as Barmukhia and India have seen.
"I wish every mother and father helps and supports their children to go forward and brighten the name of their country across the globe," she says.
Finances and goals
Borgohain rose through the ranks fast but, her father Tiken says, she did not have a "single rupee in her pocket" when she went abroad for tournaments.
"Lovlina had faced a lot of problems in her life, but these problems could not hinder Lovlina's aim for a greater goal," he adds.
On the eve of her journey to Tokyo for the Olympics, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma provided financial support to the boxer and promised better infrastructure, Tiken says.
On December 23, Borgohain attended a book launch in Guwahati. The book, by Devajit Phukan, was on her and tited 'Khelratna Lovlina (Baromukhiya to Tokyo)'.
At the launch, Borgohain was every bit the daughter her parents described.
I have a dream; I want to set up a sports school in Assam where every facility will be available. From a player to a sports scientist, that platform will be able to aid all. This is a huge purpose and it will take some time and effort. But of course, I will succeed," she said.
Borgohain added that so far, she has not been able to take a step towards this as she is aiming for Olympic gold first.
But even without her active participation, Borgohain's plans appear closer to fruition now than ever.
MLA Phukan informs The Bridge that Rs 25 crores has been sanctioned for a 'Lovlina Borgohain Sports Complex,' which will be located at a distance of 2 km from her home and work on which will begin in April 2022.
In that sports complex, there will be a synthetic track, one indoor stadium with two badminton courts, and two boxing rings. Accommodations will also be available for players.
The Assam government has also sanctioned Rs 2 crore for an academy in her name, which will first kickstart operations from 2022 from a public hall in Barpathar, and after that, shifted to the Lovlina Borgohain Sports Complex.
At the Guwahati book launch, Borgohain also raised her concern about the lack of coaches in the village areas of Assam, because of which children don't get any opportunity to prepare and train.
To become a coach, one has to go to Punjab's Patiala for a degree or diploma.
"There are many senior players who do not even have jobs. If they get a curse on coaching in Assam, then they can become a professional coach and we will find many more talents in our region," she added.
It is Borgohain's first coach Prashant Das who tells The Bridge that there has been a surge in interest in sports since her medal. His club has also seen a rise in students.
After Lovlina's medal, parents are coming to the academy on their own, asking to enroll their children. They request me to give their child a good platform. Unlike earlier, we can't train students in the open as most games are played indoors. With the support of our MLA and the local public, I am trying to develop the infrastructure," Das, adding that he is hoping for more Borgohains to emerge from the area.
Das has been training students since 2005, has no posters or, in fact, any other promotional material to boost his academy. The students he trains almost always join defence sectors. "But Lovlina was always something different," he says, confident of her qualification in Paris 2024.
So what does the woman at the centre of it all feel?
"When I first started boxing, I didn't know how to do it. I didn't know how to get a chance to participate in the Olympics. I just concentrated on training and got the results. Those who want to get into sports must be patient in reaching a goal. It takes a long time for a dream to come true, you should keep working hard to ensure that the aim is not broken," Borgohain tells The Bridge.
Borgohain adds that young people in sports have an isolating experience amidst uncertainty. When she was going through such times, Borgohain had a friend and guide in a star boxer, Mary Kom.
"Me and Mary Kom didi, were room partners in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Basically, when we won a competition, we would skip training the next day. But I saw Mary Kom, who was the champion in that competition, going for training the very next morning. I learned from her that training sessions should never stop," Borgohain says.