Delhi High Court on Monday granted an interim injunction in a defamation lawsuit filed by WhiteHat Jr founder Karan Bajaj against the educational technology startup’s vocal critic Pradeep Poonia. The court order also stated that Pradeep Poonia, the software engineer has been restrained from accessing the company’s curriculum and internal communication channels, like Slack, and telecasting or transmitting information from those sources in public until the next court hearing which is to be held on January 6.
The high court has also restrained him from commenting online about the quality of teachers that teach coding to students via the WhiteHatJr platform. He was also asked to take down a few tweets in which he had alleged the educational start-up to be a “pyramid scheme”.
The software engineer was also told that he could not use the word “WhiteHat” in the videos he uploads on his YouTube channel until the next hearing.
Delhi High Court justice Mukta Gupta said, “The suit entails several disputed questions of fact which it would be improper to enter upon at this stage. However, there are some facts which require an injunction.”
During the court proceedings, Poonia has said to the court that neither had he downloaded any curriculum from the educational start-up WhiteHatJr nor did he hack into their systems and therefore he is willing to suffer any injunction in the court.
WhiteHatJr founder Kiran Bajaj told Economic Times, “There’s a narrative being played around that we are suppressing criticism, whereas we are welcoming fact-based criticism and making amends wherever necessary as we did recently with our marketing campaign.”
Referring to the ongoing case, he added, “But is this criticism when you breach into our system, take up a fake identity to call our teachers and refer to them with defaming comments like calling them housewives who are not trained? There’s nothing to learn from here. Our case was only against these things and the court has agreed on those. We don’t want to stop criticism”
Poonia said, “WhiteHatJr has been systematically trying to shut down criticism, the history of which is well-documented in various articles. They have created fictional children who earn 20 crores, attributed false accomplishments, such as a TedX talk that never was and have made completely baseless claims without regard for the facts or for the effects that these statements may have on young children. My intention was and is only to expose these false and unethical business practices, generate public debate on important issues that could affect a whole generation of youngsters who buy into this false propaganda. They sought a sweeping gag order and wanted to prevent me from ever referring to them using trademarks as a basis. I’m glad they didn’t get what they sought from the court. I will be filing a detailed response to their claims.”
During the court hearing, Poonia also bought up an ad campaign that the ed-tech startup ran claiming that a child named Wold Gupta was employed by Google at a salary of Rs 20 crore. Poonia criticized that this imaginary child (Wolf Gupta) is only a fictional element created to attract children to use their application.
Advertising regulatory body ASCI had asked WhiteHatJr to take down five of its advertisements which had gone live in August claiming that the knowledge of coding enabled children as young as six and seven to develop apps that will have investors lining up.
Critics of the application like Poonia and Malpani have said that advertisements such as the Wolf Gupta one are misleading and are made to sell tall dreams to parents which might drastically affect the mental health and psychology of the children.
WhiteHatJr has in the meanwhile filed another defamation lawsuit against another critic Aniruddha Malpani seeking $ 1.9 million in damages. That case will be heard at the Delhi High Court on Tuesday.
Malpani told ET, “I don’t understand how WhiteHat Jr objects to “false, unethical attacks” but feels it is ethical to spend money on ads like Wolf Gupta which are full of lies and deliberately designed to cheat parents by making false claims.”
Several others have taken up social media as a platform to support the critics. Noteworthy names like Neelesh Misra and audio storyteller who has more than 125,000 followers on Twitter said that the lawsuits were “a disastrous move by Karan Bajaj because it will blow into national attention the troubling murmurs against this company that one keeps seeing in a scattered manner all over the social media.”