Expressing concern over incidents of criminal assaults on Dalit women, National Commission for Scheduled Caste chairman P.L. Puniya on Monday said Scheduled Caste members must collectively protest against such injustices.

Speaking at the music launch of upcoming film Shudra: The Rising, Mr. Puniya said the film talks about ancient India. “Barring 15 per cent to 20 per cent, the situation in the country in the 21st Century continues to be the same. The film releases on October 19. I recommend it as a must-watch film. State governments must exempt the film from tax. I will write to every State government to give this film tax exemption.”

Noting that B.R. Ambedkar wanted political equality for the poorest of the poor when he adopted the Constitution, Mr. Puniya said: “As there was socio-economic inequality, he knew we were entering into an era of contradiction. We tried to bridge the gap, but to no avail.”

Mr. Puniya said some people continue to feel that they can get away with the attacks on Dalits.

“We keep hearing about shameful incidents like rapes of Dalit women in Haryana. In Odisha, Dalits cannot enter the temple premises, located virtually in every village of the coastal State. The temples are following ancient traditions. There has been a Supreme Court judgment against this, and even eminent jurist and now Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju has said there are tumblers in Tamil Nadu in which Scheduled Caste members are served water, tea and breakfast. Even in Karnataka there are separate cups and saucers for Dalits. Even in progressive States these traditions continue.”

Pointing out that the Dalit community must collectively condemn such incidents, he said: “We may be attacked again for voicing our grievances in public, but must be brave enough to withstand such challenges.”

Actor Areef Rajput, who honed his skills at the National School of Drama, feels the film is an excellent launch pad because it speaks about the exploitation of Dalits in an honest and passionate way.

And Areef can empathise with the subject. “In 2010, I was denied the right to rent a flat in Mumbai because I belong to the Muslim community. My broker tried very hard, but got disappointing rejections. Finally I did manage to get one, but I can feel the pain and trauma of a Dalit who may have to go through this process.”

Filmmaker Sanjiv Jaiswal, who has written, directed and produced this social venture, said he wanted to make a film which will compel cinema lovers to debate extensively on the subject of caste system, which he has scientifically analysed and adapted on the big screen.

For this Lucknow-based entrepreneur, venturing into this social film was a daunting proposition. “I was determined to examine the ugly ramifications of caste system. To portray the correct picture, I did extensive research on the subject by reading books and interacting with the intelligentsia.”

He faced vehement opposition from the upper caste and one of the financers even ditched him at the eleventh hour. But Sanjiv continued with his mission to complete this venture. “It is neither a commercial venture nor an off-beat film. I have roped in theatre actors because Bollywood stars would have diverted the subject and the all-important message of the film would have lost.”