Ad Van brings Indigenous ‘Drop Adani’ demand to Science Museum

Last week, powerful Indigenous voices calling for the Science Museum to Drop Adani were brought right to the museum’s front door. It’s time the museum’s leaders demonstrated they are listening.

Last month, representatives of Indigenous communities wrote to the Science Museum calling on it to drop its new sponsorship deal with Adani, a huge conglomerate operating highly contested coal mines on Indigenous peoples’ lands. But the museum is still standing by its sponsor.

Phillip Kujur speaks on the AdVan screen outside the museum. Photo by Crispin Hughes

So last Wednesday, a large AdVan pulled up outside the museum playing films and messages from Indigenous communities in India, Indonesia and Australia who are resisting Adani’s destructive projects on their lands. Supporters and passers-by gathered to watch, unfurling banners and placards to demonstrate their solidarity. You can watch all the films here.

One of the films was a new video message from Phillip Kujur of the Adivasi Activist Forum for Indigenous Rights in Jharkhand, India, one of the signatories of last month’s letter. He directly addressed the destructive effect the Science Museum’s new sponsor is having on Indigenous peoples’ lands in India:

‘The agreement between Adani and the London Science Museum is against the Adivasi people and generations of people who have lived harmoniously with nature and learn from it… A company like Adani is destroying the Earth and wants to finish it off completely.’

In front of the gathered crowd, Indigenous Adivasi woman Ruby spoke passionately about Adani’s impacts and what it means for the Science Museum to be giving legitimacy to this and other fossil fuel companies:

‘When the Science Museum can take money from anyone, from anywhere, why would they start with Shell? Why would they move to Adani? What does that even mean? That only means that they don’t care. They don’t care about people, they don’t care about this planet, they don’t care about the environment… That is why we are here today to protest and say drop Adani – drop Adani now.’

Across the street, passers-by also stopped and watched as Uncle Adrian Burragubba, a senior cultural custodian from the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners, spoke on the AdVan screen about the devastating impacts of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine on their ancestral lands and how Gautam Adani, the company’s CEO, uses sponsorship deals to launder his image:

‘[Gautam] Adani seeks to portray himself as a philanthropist… Adani does not have licence to donate to anybody because Adani stole the land from First Nations people here six years ago…The First Nations people of this land are being robbed of their rights.’

One of the other films screened on the AdVan showed disturbing aerial footage of a massive coal mine on Bunyu Island in Indonesia, where large-scale mining operations cover around 14% of the island. The coal extraction is impacting the local Indigenous community by destroying rice fields and fruit gardens, contaminating the rivers and undermining the protected forest. Adani is the largest operator of the mine, one of many major mining projects being challenged by the Indonesian advocacy network JATAM. 

Keval Bharadia from South Asia Solidarity Group also spoke in person to the crowd to provide some context on who Gautam Adani is, his close links to Indian Prime Minister Modi, and how Adani’s widespread environmental destruction is linked to Modi’s neoliberal, racist agenda. You can read his blog expanding on these issues here.

Keval Bharadia speaks to the crowd. Photo by Ron Fassbender.

As well as chanting ‘Drop Adani!’ the crowd also chanted ‘Adani Company Wapas Jao!’ in Hindi, which translates as ‘Adani Company Go Back!’ and was being chanted by Indigenous communities in the Indian state of Jharkhand in one of the film clips. 

The solidarity action was organised by a large group of organisations and networks who are together calling on the Science Museum to #DropAdani, including Survival International, London Mining Network, South Asia Solidarity Group, UKSCN London, Culture Unstained, Scientists for XR, Market Forces, XR Hammersmith and Fulham, Coal Action Network, and Fossil Free London.

Photo by Yaz Ashmawi

Nearly 5000 people who couldn’t be there in person showed their solidarity online by writing to the Science Museum as part of an action led by Coal Action Network, calling on the museum to listen to Indigenous people and drop Adani. You can join them by writing your own letter here

On the same day, Culture Unstained made public the patronising response made by the Science Museum Group’s Chair Dame Mary Archer to last month’s letter from Indigenous representatives, which brushed off the concerns and concrete examples of Adani’s negative impacts that they had expressed. It contains a brief passage from Sir Ian Blatchford, the museum’s Director, where he attempts to dial down his defense of Adani but fails to apologise for his unacceptable and disrespectful dismissal of Indigenous concerns about the company’s coal mining operations in Australia on BBC Front Row in October. 

The museum is currently displaying Amazônia, an exhibition by photographer Sebastião Salgado that ‘celebrates the indigenous peoples and varied landscapes of the Brazilian rainforest’. The hypocrisy of the museum advocating for the preservation of Indigenous communities’ traditional territories and ways of life in one part of the world while partnering with a company that is actively destroying them in others is impossible to ignore.  

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