Was the Indian educational technology company Unacademy right in sacking an employee over a comment?

karan sangwan unacademy teacher

I know the answer to the question. I only want to offer reasons for my answer.

Unacademy is an educational company that “provides online educational platform” and according to its website, its motto is: “Educate, Enable, Empower.” Sounds similar to something I heard before, “Educate, Agitate, Organize,” (Dr. B. R. Ambedkar) but I have no intention of dwelling on it.

A teacher from Unacademy was sacked recently for merely saying, “vote for the educated and not those who only focus on changing names”. Actually, there is a context as to why he said these words.

“Karan Sangwan had made the remarks while discussing bills introduced in the Lok Sabha to replace the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Evidence Act.

In a video that went viral on 14 August, Sangwan said, “I also wondered if I should laugh or cry, because I also have many bare Acts…and notes that we had prepared,” he said. “But remember one thing – the next time you vote, choose an educated candidate so that you do not have to suffer all this again in life.”

He added, “Elect someone who is educated, who understands things. Don’t elect someone who only knows how to change names. Make your decision properly.”

To me it is clear that Mr. Sangwan made the statement in a moment of exasperation, more than anything else. On 17th August the founder of the company stated that, “the classroom is not a place to share personal opinions and views as they can wrongly influence them. In the current situation, we were forced to part ways with Karan Sangwan as he was in breach of the Code of Conduct.”

Obviously, these are lines from a person who perhaps was never a teacher in a classroom. The teacher is a human being, who sometimes gets exasperated and lets it out in the classroom. What’s wrong with that! The classroom is absolutely the space where you can share these things and discuss them openly with students. In fact, the last sentence of the teacher was, “Make your decision properly.” If he was really out to indoctrinate students he would do it in a much more insidious manner. It’s not like the teacher was going out and disturbing public peace either. Since he did not do anything close to that and instead openly expressed his frustration with a member of a political party currently enjoying power, I see nothing wrong in his actions. What is this “breach of the Code of Conduct” bullshit all about?

Weak, egotistical leaders cannot bear the slightest of criticism because it adds to their morbid fear of losing power. Criticizing political parties is the most normal thing in any democracy on this planet. Criticizing laws also is a normal thing. For instance, “Clause 69 of the proposed bill states,

“Whoever, by deceitful means or making by promise to marry to a woman without any intention of fulfilling the same, and has sexual intercourse with her, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.”

Ten years of imprisonment for a man for having intercourse after making false promises of marriage to a woman? What if a woman makes a promise of marriage and then decides to change her mind? That’s fine, I guess. The phrase “freedom of choice” is somehow existentially connected to men and not women. And women are incapable of the same agency as men? Do normal conversations between men and women in a real-life situation actually begin like this:

Man: How about you and me – sex without marriage?

Woman: As an Indian woman I am incapable of sexual feelings without marriage. Never happened that way to any woman in my country’s history. But as an Indian male, like all males you are capable of those kinds of feelings, with or without marriage. Therefore, no. First, promise me marriage, then sex.

I find these laws anti-woman because they make it look like most women are incapable of making rational decisions for themselves with regard to their relationships. Where exploitation happens, it is not the promise of marriage, but the promise of money that is usually the case. That man-money-woman nexus needs to be broken for real relationships where boys and girls will make promises of love and honor them and they won’t know the meaning of betrayal in any of its virulent forms.

I apologize for the digression, but, laws as much law-makers are open to criticism. Nothing fundamentally wrong with that.

To return to my point, I know what this “breach of the Code of Conduct” business is all about because I happen to be a victim of it. I lost my job as professor at The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad in December 2022 for merely responding to an anonymous, defamatory email. I am aware that the reasons for my dismissal are much more devious than what meets the eye. The Vice-Chancellor, E-Suresh Kumar and his administration filled with his cronies made it look as if my “misconduct” was the equivalent of assassinating the Pope and the President of Belarus on the same day. My requests to the Ministry of Education for an independent inquiry fell on deaf ears as the VC and his crony administration selectively used my writing available online to promote the idea that not only was I against the political party at the helm of affairs but that my continuation in service was a threat to them. To this minute I am convinced that my “removal from service” was not a coincidence but a political decision.

The brazenness of E. Suresh Kumar is that he continues as the Vice-Chancellor of EFL University without any office order from the Ministry of Education and in violation of the statutes of the University, despite the fact that he completed his five-year tenure along with an extension of one more year. If this is not an example of government-sanctioned misconduct or “breach of the Code of Conduct,” I don’t know what is!

Therefore, it goes without saying that the corporate bosses had to please the political bosses to do the needful in the case of Mr. Karan Sangwan.

In a slightly similar context, an assistant professor of the Economics department from Ashoka University, which until now I had a decent opinion about, “resigned” from his position for authoring a paper titled “Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy”. Apparently, the professor argued that, “the BJP won a disproportionate share of closely contested parliamentary seats in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, especially in states where it was the ruling party at the time.”

I cannot claim to have read the paper as unfortunately I could not get access to it. But I trust the judgement of a man who has read it closely. Yogendra Yadav, a psephologist himself and a political commentator, says that

“this paper is about probability. It can only tell us that something is fishy; it cannot catch the fish. This is no legal proof that establishes a fraud-trail between the culprit and the beneficiary. Nor does it cast aspersions on the entire outcome of 2019 elections. The author himself underlines it. He estimates that the BJP may have gained anything between 9 to 18 parliamentary seats due to this possible manipulation, too few to affect its majority in the Lok Sabha. So, to reiterate, this paper does not say or imply that Narendra Modi came to power in 2019 through electoral fraud.”

To be realistic, except in academic circles, people rarely read research papers. Now, of course, because of the attention it garnered, a lot of people would like to read this paper by Sabyasachi Das. But, imagine the insecurity bordering paranoia of certain members of the government for a mere research paper, one among hundreds of thousands published on a regular basis!

At first, I thought that my own dismissal was a coincidence. But there is definitely a pattern to witch-hunting anyone who says something slightly critical of the government. You criticize “us” and guess what, you are left without a job. This is totalitarianism in practice. As history is evidence, things only get worse, never better, unless people unitedly resist this kind of paranoia and refuse to become victims to the arrogance of power. The very idea of liberal democracy is built on criticism; revolutionary changes cannot happen, but changes through constant criticism is the normal way that democracies function in any part of the world. For the life of me I cannot understand how can there be an elected government that shuns criticism like the plague!

Finally, do I agree with Mr. Sangwan that we need to choose an educated candidate when we vote? No, I don’t! Remember, what Aristotle says in Politics:

“For these two lives- the life of the philosopher and the life of the statesman- appear to have been preferred by those who have been most keen in the pursuit of virtue, both in our own and in other ages. Which is the better is a question of no small moment; for the wise man, like the wise state, will necessarily regulate his life according to the best end.”

The pursuit of virtue is what makes a statesman. Education might be an additional asset to the statesman. In principle, however, he or she can be a peasant, a sanitation worker or a standup comedian. But, without virtue as a defining characteristic there cannot be a political leader. Such leaders are not only dangerous to themselves but dangerous to the world as well. College degrees might give you an open mind provided you are willing to open it, but, what they cannot give you is empathy.

In India hundreds of thousands graduate every year with some degree or the other. They become doctors, engineers, bureaucrats, legal officials etc. There is no evidence to say that, therefore, they are wise and possess the empathy necessary for a leader. If they really possessed “virtue” in the sense in which Aristotle is talking about, we wouldn’t have the kinds of leaders that we have in the first place. The poor, illiterate masses are often much more empathetic and with greater courage of conviction than people who go to university. Their courage does not come from books; rather, it comes from their hopeless condition. As the protagonist from Brecht’s play Mother Courage and her children says:

“Poor folk got to have courage. Why, they’re lost. Simply getting up in the morning takes some doing in their situation. Or ploughing a field and in a war at that. Mere fact they bring kids into the world shows they got courage, cause there’s no hope for them.”

Prakash Kona is a writer and independent scholar. He completed his doctorate at the University of Mississippi, MS in 1997. His thesis is a comparative analysis of Derrida, Chomsky and Wittgenstein. His areas of interest include Shakespeare, Postcolonialism, World Literature and Afro-American Literature.


‘Government-approved theka’: Unacademy under heavy fire over tutor’s sacking



Ashoka University faculty members threaten exodus over research paper row


Something was fishy about 2019 polls for sure, but don’t expect Das’ paper to catch the fish


Proposed IPC Bill with new clause on ‘false promise to marry’: What it says and how such cases been dealt thus far


Bertolt Brecht. Mother Courage and her Children.



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