01/05/2015 02:28 EST | Updated 03/07/2015 05:59 EST

Gandhi-Bot beer sparks controversy for U.S. brewer

An American beer company is saying sorry to Indians if they were offended by its Gandhi-inspired beer but is maintaining that the drink is meant as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, the famous civil rights and Indian independence leader.

The New England Brewing Co., based in Connecticut, makes an Indian pale ale blend that is called "Gandhi-Bot" and 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, according to a story in the Times of India.

The New England Brewing Co. posted a message on its Facebook page on Jan. 3 that said it apologizes to any Indian people who find Gandhi-Bot offensive.

"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," it said. 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.

The message didn't name the relatives who are in favour of the beer. The Telegraph newspaper reported from New Delhi that several of Gandhi's relatives are critical of the American company's product. 

A great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi, reportedly said the family was not consulted in advance about the use of Gandhi's name or image and that family members are considering legal action over what he described as an insult to Indians.

Gandhi 'abhorred' alcohol

"How can anyone think of using Mahatma Gandhi’s picture on a bottle of alcoholic product? All his life he abhorred alcohol drinking and spoke against it," the relative said. 

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.

The New England Brewing Co. posted a subsequent message on Facebook asking fans and supporters not to argue with those who are offended by Gandhi-Bot. 

"We want to do our best to be culturally sensitive and respectful," the message said.