Sardar Udham Singh: Remembering the avenger of Jallianwala Bagh, a Determined Force Against British Domination

Udham Singh

Sardar Udham Singh was an Indian revolutionary. His birth anniversary is celebrated on 26 December every year. A regional public holiday is also recognized on July 31 in Punjab and Haryana where marches are held in his hometown (Sunam) to commemorate his death anniversary.

Udham Singh was born on 26 December 1899 in Sunam, Punjab to Sardar Tehal Singh Jammu and Mata Narain Kaur. The Father of Udham Singh was a farmer and also worked as a railway crossing watchman.

Udham Singh and his older brother Mukta Singh were raised by the Central Khalsa Orphanage Putlighar in Amritsar following the loss of their father in the year 1907. Udham Singh completed his matriculation exam in 1918 and departed the orphanage in 1919.

He joined the British Indian Army during the First World War even though he was below the age of enrolment.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

Leaders of the Indian National Congress were arrested on 10 April 1919 under the Rowlatt Act. More than 20,000 people were assembled at Jallianwala Bagh to protest and celebrate Vaisakhi, the Sikh festival. Udham Singh and his friends were serving water at that time to the protestors.

Several hundred people were killed when troops led by General O’Dwyer opened fire on the crowd for 10 minutes continuously; this event is referred to as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre or the Amritsar Massacre.

Udham Singh got involved in revolutionary politics after this incident took place. He was influenced by freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. To overthrow the British Rule in India, Udham Singh joined the Ghadar party in 1924. He organized Indians overseas for the same.

On Bhagat Singh’s orders, he returned to India in 1927, bringing with him ammunition and revolvers for 25 associates. He was taken into custody for possession of unlicensed arms soon after. The Ghadar Party paper “Ghadr-di-Gunj” (which means “Voice of Revolt”), together with revolvers and ammunition, were seized. He was found guilty and given a five-year prison term.

Assassination of General O’Dwyer

He was released in 1935 and was under the surveillance of the Punjab Police. He managed to escape the Punjab Police and traveled via Kashmir to reach Germany. He reached London in 1934 and started making plans to assassinate Michael O’Dwyer.

Michael O’Dwyer was invited to speak at a joint conference of the Central Asian Society and the East India Association on March 13, 1940, at Caxton Hall in London. Udham Singh entered the event. He concealed a revolver in his jacket and entered the area in which the meeting was being held. After the meeting ended, Udham Singh started moving towards the stage and then shot Michael O Dwyer twice and killed him instantly. Other people who were injured were Louis Dane, 2nd Marquess of Zetland, and Lawrence Dundas. Udham Singh was immediately arrested after he killed Michael O’Dwyer.

His trial and execution

Udham Singh was charged with the murder of Michael O’Dwyer on 1 April 1940. When he asked his motivations he said, “I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. I don’t belong to society or anything else. I don’t care. I don’t mind dying. What is the use of waiting until you get old? … Is Zetland dead? He ought to be. I put two into him. I bought the revolver from a soldier in a public house. My parents died when I was three or four. Only one dead? I thought I could get more”.

He called himself Ram Mohammad Singh Azaad in the custody. The first three words represent the three main religions of Punjab (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh) and Azaad means free representing his anti-colonial sentiment.

Udham Singh went on a hunger strike in the prison which was broken by prison authorities when he force-fed him on the 42nd day.

His trial began on June 4, 1940, in the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, before Justice Cyril Atkinson. St. John Hutchinson and V.K. Krishna Menon were his attorneys. The attorney for the prosecution was G. B. McClure.[22] In response to a query concerning his motivation, Singh said: I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. He was the real culprit. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I have crushed him. For the full 21 years, I have been trying to seek vengeance. I am happy that I have done the job. I am not scared of death. I am dying for my country. I have seen my people starving in India under British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty.

Singh was found guilty of murder and given the death penalty. Albert Pierrepoint executed Singh by hanging at Pentonville Prison on July 31, 1940. His remains are preserved at Jallianwala Bagh, Punjab. On 31 July every year, marches are held in Singh’s hometown (Sunam) by various organizations. In the city, floral garlands are placed on each statue of Singh as a sign of respect.







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