Shaheed Udham Singh (December 26, 1899 – July 31, 1940)
Shaheed Udham Singh Kamboj was an Indian revolutionary, better known for avenging Jallianwala bagh massacre by killing Michael O’Dwyer. He sacrificed his life for the freedom of the country and was known as Shaheed-i-Azam Sardar Udham Singh and Ram Mohammed Singh Azad.
Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh along with Chandrasekhar Azad, Rajguru and Sukhdev, were the more famous names out of scores of young firebrand freedom fighters in the early part of 20th-century India. They displayed extraordinary courage and were labeled as “India’s earliest Marxists” by the Britishers.
Udham Singh was born as Sher Singh to a Kamboj Sikh family in Sunam, Sangrur district of Punjab, India on 26th December 1899. His father Sardar Tehal Singh was a railway crossing watchman in village Upali. His mother Naraini passed away in 1901, later in the year 1907 his father died, leaving him and his elder brother Mukta Singh. Both of the brothers were taken to Central Khalsa Orphanage Putlighar in Amritsar, at that time Sher Singh was just five years old.
He received the name Udham Singh at the orphanage and was administered the Sikh initiatory rites. His brother was given the name Sadhu Singh from Mukta Singh who died in the year 1917 due to pneumonia, which came as a great shock to Udham Singh. While at the orphanage, Udham Singh was trained in various arts and crafts. He passed his matriculation examination in 1918 and left the orphanage in 1919.
Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh
On Vaisakhi day April 13, 1919, over twenty thousand unarmed people gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar to protest against the Rowlatt act. At that time Udham Singh and his friends were serving water to the crowd on a hot summer afternoon. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer along with a troop of 90 soldiers marched to the park which had a narrow entrance and ordered the troops to open fire with no warning, they fired for ten to fifteen minutes directing their bullets largely towards the few gates through which people were trying to flee. People climb the walls of the park, jumped into the well inside the compound to escape the bullets.
The casualty figures were never fully ascertained but more than 1800 people were dead. Official figures say that 1,650 rounds of ammunition were used. The British Government tried to suppress information on the massacre, but the news spread in India while the detail of the massacre did not become known in Britain until December 1919.
The massacre caused many Indians to abandon their loyalty to the Britishers. Rabindranath Tagore on receiving the news by May 22, 1919, wrote “I … wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.“
During the Hunter Commission Sir Chimanlal Setalvad enquired to Dyer:
Sir Chimanlal: Supposing the passage was sufficient to allow the armored cars to go in, would you have opened fire with the machine guns?
Dyer: I think probably, yes.
Sir Chimanlal: In that case, the casualties would have been much higher?
Udham Singh became a freedom fighter
Udham Singh plunged into politics and became a dedicated revolutionary, he was deeply influenced by Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary group. He became involved with Ghadar Party, organizing Indians overseas towards overthrowing colonial rule. Indians living in America and Canada formed this party in 1913 to spark a revolution in India.
Udham Singh also traveled to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Brazil, and America to raise money for the revolution. He returned to India in 1927 after Bhagat Singh ordered him and brought with him 25 companions, several revolvers, and ammunition. Soon he was arrested for possessing illegal weapons and echoing Gadar Party’s banned newspaper Gadar. He was tried and sentenced to five years in prison.
He stayed in jail for four years, missing the peak of India’s revolutionary period and the actions of men like Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad. Bhagat Singh was hanged with his fellow comrades Raj Guru and Sukhdev on March 23, 1931, for the murder of Mr. Saunders while Udham Singh was still in jail.
After being released from jail, the Punjab Police was closely monitoring Udham Singh. During this time he went to Kashmir and disappeared and somehow reached Germany. He wandered about the continent for some time and reached England by the mid-thirties. He was on the lookout for an opportunity to avenge the Jalliawala Bagh tragedy.
According to the secret reports of British Police, Singh was on the move in India till early 1934, he was next reported in Italy where he stayed for 3-4 months. From Italy, he proceeded to France, Switzerland, and Austria and finally reached England in 1934 where he purchased and used his own car for traveling purposes.
His real objective, however, always remained killing Michael O’Dwyer. During this time, he came to know about the meeting on 13 March 1940 and Dwyer’s arrival in it. Michael O’Dwyer was scheduled to speak at a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Central Asian Society at Caxton Hall, London.
Udham Singh concealed his revolver in a book specially cut for the purpose and managed to enter Caxton Hall. He took up his position against the wall. At the end of the meeting, the gathering stood up, and O’Dwyer moved towards the platform to talk to Lord Zetland. Singh pulled his revolver and fired. O’Dwyer was hit twice and died immediately. Three other officers were also injured during this period, including the Secretary of State of India.
Udham Singh mainly held Michael O’Dwyer responsible for what came to be known as the Amritsar Massacre. He waited for 21 long years to fulfill his oath of wreaking vengeance on the perpetrators of the crime. Singh was arrested immediately and tried for the killing.
On 1 April 1940, Udham Singh was formally charged with the murder of Sir Michael O’Dwyer. On 4 June 1940, he was committed to trial, at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, before Justice Atkinson. When the court asked about his name, he replied “Ram Mohammad Singh Azad”, which Singh believed would demonstrate his transcendence of race, caste, creed, and religion. On 31 July 1940, Udham Singh was hanged at Pentonville Prison. His remains are preserved at the Jallianwala Bhag in Amritsar, Punjab.
When asked about his motivation, Singh explained:
“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 a 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. What greater honor could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?”