Tiken Borgohain is overwhelmed right now. His house in a small village called Baromukhia, in India’s northeastern state of Assam, is currently inundated with guests and journalists. Right outside, workers are busy repairing nearly 600 metres of unpaved road that connects to the main road. “My daughter is coming home,” Borgohain told VICE World News.
He is the proud father of Lovlina Borgohain, the Indian boxer who just won a bronze medal in the 69kg category of women’s boxing at the Tokyo Olympics. In doing so, the 23-year-old secured India’s third medal at the 2020 Olympics. It’s her first Olympic medal ever, as well as Assam’s.
Last week, Biswajit Phukan, a member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), announced that it will be repairing the road that leads to the Olympian’s house, to celebrate her achievement. The decision came on July 30, when Lovlina won bronze after knocking out Chinese Taipei’s Nien-Chin Chen during the quarterfinals. The same day, a heavy downpour had wrecked the road leading to her home.
Assam, a state of about 31 million people, lacks physical infrastructure and development in most parts, even though new roads are often promised in election manifestos. Most districts also lack basic facilities such as electricity and drinking water.
“It’s a village road, so it keeps getting wrecked every time it rains. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember,” said Borgohain, who works in a tea garden. He raised Lovlina and two other daughters, Lima and Licha, despite severe financial hardship. “Sometimes, it would be riddled with potholes. I’ve taken my kids on my motorcycle on that road, and it was impossible to ride on.”
Most of Lovlina’s training took place in Assam’s capital Guwahati, which is over 300 kilometres (nearly 200 miles) away from Baromukhia. Phukan, the BJP leader, announced that all measures are being taken to make the road outside Borgohain’s home motorable. “We are now busy ensuring that it is repaired before she returns from Tokyo,” he told Hindustan Times.
“It’s definitely improved our lives, and the government did it all for our Lovlina,” said Borgohain. “It’s like a gift for the entire village.”
In the global sports scene, South Asian athletes are often lauded for their raw talent, having come from an environment without sports infrastructure, and faced with financial constraints. India’s top athletes often have extraordinary stories hailing from its rural, economically deprived communities.
Over the years, India has won a total of 28 Olympic medals. In comparison, the U.S., which leads the global Olympics medal count, has 2,827 medals.
In the meantime, congratulatory messages for Lovlina have flooded social media.
Of course, some social media users pointed out that it shouldn’t have taken this long – or even an Olympic medal – for Lovlina’s village to get a decent road.
Earlier this week, Assam government officials were also criticised for putting up congratulatory posters in Guwahati, but with their own photos instead of Lovlina’s. Following the backlash, the posters were later replaced with ones bearing her photo.
In the meantime, the Borgohain family is beside themselves with joy. “For us, the Olympics was a dream that we didn’t even imagine,” said Lovlina’s father. “Forget the medal, even being there is a big deal.”
Although Lovlina must be disappointed for missing her goal of winning gold, Borgohain said her performance at Tokyo 2020 is more than good enough. “As a father, I feel sad because her dream wasn’t fulfilled. Our dream, to be honest, is fulfilled because she’s there. We’re happy with just that.”
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