Jerry and Justice: amidst torture, house arrest, and ethnic violence, gay couple finds love in Manipur

As the first person to come out as gay in my tribal community, my family stood against me. They accused me of being possessed; that a demon forced me to say I loved a man.

  • 4 months ago
  • March 10, 2024
6 min read
Jerry and Justice met in college and became a couple. When Jerry came out as gay, he faced torture and house arrest. The two managed to escape the violence to be together. | Photo courtesy of Jerry Leivon Jerry and Justice met in college and became a couple. When Jerry came out as gay, he faced torture and house arrest. The two managed to escape the violence to be together. | Photo courtesy of Jerry Leivon
journalist’s notes
interview subject
Jerry Leivon grew up in the Kuki community in Manipur. When he was outed for being gay, he faced intense challenges alongside his partner Justice. Jerry navigated familial resistance and communal riots which threatening their relationship. Amidst all this adversity, Jerry fled on multiple occasions. When the ethnic riots escalated, he and Justice left together and are working toward their dream wedding, taking courses, and they hope to start a makeup artist academy and an NGO to support other gay couples.
background information
According to recent news reports in March 2024, the northeastern state of India known as Manipur faces the fifth consecutive month of intermittent ethnic violence between the Meitei and Kuki communities. To date, over 1,000 people have been injured, 175 killed, and tens of thousands have fled. Factors contributing to the conflict include competition for resources and political power, claims of exploitation by the Meiteis, and a recent growth in Kuki representation in the Congress.

IMPHAL, Manipur — On a Sunday morning, as I pedaled to church to pray, ethnic riots erupted between the Meitei and Kuki communities in Imphal. I found myself in the middle of the violence. The opposing tribe set the church ablaze with people still inside. Returning to my boyfriend Justice’s house offered no security. As a member of the opposite tribe, surely I would die, so I made the decision to flee.

I escaped from Imphal with no money, facing a state-wide curfew. With all forms of transportation shut down, I rode my bike for nearly two hours, knowing Justice would understand. I finally called him on my way to Guwahati, a city in the eastern state of Assam. “I am riding as fast I can to avoid being caught,” I told him. When I finally reached my sibling’s house, exhausted and afraid, I knew I had made the right decision. If I wanted to be with my boyfriend, I needed to stay alive.  

Read more stories from the ethnic riots in Manipur. Read more stories from Orato World Media’s Sex & Gender section.

Gay man’s family embarks on a mission to “make him straight”

As the first person to come out as gay in my tribal community, my family stood against me. They accused me of being possessed; that a demon forced me to say I loved a man. From conversion therapy to various forms of emotional and physical torture, my family did everything to make me change, but the love between Justice and I stood the test of time.

Justice and I first met through a dating app, despite attending the same college. Things started casually, but the emotion deepened over time. One night, Justice took me on a romantic date. We talked about music, dance, travel, and our careers. I felt elated. “This is my dream man,” I thought, but then Justice disappeared.

Unable to fathom what went wrong, I felt devastated when Justice ghosted me. A sense of isolation and deep pain set in. In December, he suddenly resurfaced, responding to my stories on WhatsApp. We began talking more and spending time together in and outside of school. Then, one day, he asked me to be his boyfriend and I joyfully accepted.

Justice began visiting me at home and one day, my sister walked into my room and saw us kissing. I urged her to keep it a secret until I found the right time to tell my parents. She broke her promise and my family embarked on a mission to make me straight. Throughout the torture, I continued seeing Justice and when my family found out, they locked me in my room and consulted the church. On two occasions, they subjected me to painful and sickening conversion therapy.

With support from Yes We Exist India, gay couple gets assistance on the run

After the last episode of conversation therapy, my family put me on house arrest. For four days, I sat trapped in my room, but I devised a plan and managed to escape. On the road to Imphal, miraculously, I encountered Justice. He sensed something was wrong and came looking for me on his two-wheeler, sweeping me to the safety of his home.

For 20 amazing days, I stayed at Justice’s house before my family took me back by force, threatening the police. Turmoil and distress consumed me as I endured continued torture at the hands of my family. In a moment of desperation, at midnight, I texted Justice using my mother’s phone, pleading with him to come get me. At 2:00 a.m., I ran.

Jerry and Justice enjoying a day together. The couple made a daring escape from the ethnic riots that erupted in Manipur, India. | Photo courtesy of Jerry Leivon

Justice and I secured housing in a nearby village, and he posted our story to social media. Our commitment to each other never wavered. Justice and I sought aid from the online community Yes We Exist India and they offered financial support for rent and groceries. We spent a month there until news of the “runaway gay couple” circulated the village. Once again, we had to leave.   

After fleeing to Guwahati, we stayed briefly in a hotel but failed to find work, so Justice and I relented and returned to Imphal. His family welcomed us with open arms. We remained discreet and life slowly stabilized, until May 3, 2023, when ethnic riots broke out in Manipur, reigniting our pain and fear.

In the midst of ethnic violence, gay couple finds their purpose

The day I fled the riots and made it to my siblings’ house, they asked no questions. They knew what was happening – we saw it all the time. The Kuki tribe to which I belong came under attack by the Meiteis and people got killed every day. We saw girls paraded naked in the streets, raped, and burned alive. Despite years of peace between the tribes, it seemed life had no meaning anymore, except for killing.

For many of us, we saw no contrast between the Meiteis and the Kukis. We accepted one another’s religious and communal differences, but the riots put everyone in the middle. Just when Justice and I felt like life normalized, eager to finish our college educations, the conflict escalated. Justice eventually joined me at my siblings’ house.

Jerry and Justice made it through incredible challenges including Jerry’s family submitting him to torture for being gay. | Photo courtesy of Jerry Leivon

With help from Justice’s mother, I secured a job at a call center and facilitated Justice’s hire a month later. Ironically, all this upheaval changed my parents’ perspective. Despite some lingering reservations, we are talking now. My sister also accepted my relationship. Through it all, Justice’s mother became our pillar of strength. His father loves and supports us as well.

Justice and I enrolled in coursework to learn makeup artistry and aspire to establish an academy and an NGO to help other gay couples. For those facing parental abuse and social pressure, we want to serve as an example. Through it all, we continue to save our money for a wedding in Bangkok.

Justice and I have endured a lot to stay together, and I give him all the credit for our courage to persevere. Our love for one another remains the one constant in our lives, despite the turmoil and upheaval we have faced. I once lived in the shadows of secrecy as a gay man. Today, my love for Justice keeps me going and it gives me the strength to face each new challenge.

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