Bad Name, Good Beer
by Karl LeFrogre
The New England Brewing Company in Connecticut recently posted a somber note to its
Facebook page addressing the controversy over the name and labeling of its most popular
beer. The note said there were threats of destruction to the brewery and bodily harm to their
employees. Scary stuff indeed.
New England Brewing makes an Indian pale ale blend that is called "Gandhi-Bot". The can
features a robot-like figure whose face resembles Gandhi, who died in 1948. The company's
website describes the drink as "aromatic and fully vegetarian" and said it is "an ideal aid for
self-purification and the seeking of truth and love."
Some in India think the beer is far from ideal. An individual there filed a petition in court arguing
the company has misused Gandhi's image and doing so is punishable by Indian law. He argues
the American company has violated India's Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.
New England responded with an aploogy (since removed from their website) in part saying:
"Our intent is not to offend anyone but rather pay homage and celebrate a man who we
respect greatly. We take great care in creating a product we hope will not be abused in the
manner that Mahatma Gandhi spoke of when referencing alcohol," Gandhi was famously
opposed to drinking alcohol and viewed it as a social evil.
The company went on to say that many Indians living in the United States love the tribute and
that Gandhi's grandson and granddaughter have seen the beer and expressed admiration for
it. A grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, said the use of his image was "crass and silly” and
expressed concern about the commodification of his grandfather's image.
The company's apology on Facebook prompted more than 300 comments, with some users
calling it "political correctness at its worst," and others encouraging the beer brewer to keep up
the good work. Some expressed understanding for anyone who finds the beer insulting, saying
that it is a culturally sensitive issue and that the company is trying to get cheap publicity.
New England then responded that the Gandhi-Bot has been in production for five years without
a single complaint until recently, and claimed that they have "great appreciation for the non-
violent benevolent ideas that Gandhi taught." They went on to say, "We are a very small
company that is passionate about brewing beer and have never had any intention to offend
anyone but rather share what we do with anyone interested...In this case we simply wanted to
include the things and people in the world that have inspired us and find a way to incorporate
them into the work we do."
Legal experts tend to think that the Gandhi supporters may have a legitimate claim in India, but
the legal landscape is less clear in the United States. Most beer analysts suggest that
regardless of the legal outcome the good product is a good one that would sell no matter what
the company calls it.
This story does have an ending however. Several days ago New England issued the following
statement: "After careful consideration we feel that renaming Gandhi-Bot is the right move,
taking these steps will allow us to express our support for the Indian-American community while
also limiting any economic losses."
Like many of the brewery's other beers — including Fuzzy Baby Ducks, Imperial Stout Trooper
and Sea Hag — the name for Gandhi-Bot was a product of free association. Brewers there
have said the name came just after they finished making the double India Pale Ale. They
settled on the India aspect of the beer's style. That led them to the country's political icon,
Gandhi. Then they made him into a robot.
One of the central points that brought Gandhi's push for independence in touch with the
temperance movement was a loophole in British colonial law. As the nationalist movement
heated up, British leaders made it illegal to picket for political reasons. There, however, was a
dispensation for picketing for moral reasons. Enter the temperance movement. Gandhi and
other nationalists turned moral outrage against alcohol into a legal space for nationalist
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