Udham Singh

26 Dec 1899
31 Jul 1940
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Udham Singh (26 December 1899 – 31 July 1940) was an Indian revolutionary, best known for assassinating Michael O’Dwyer on 13 March 1940 in what has been described as an avenging of the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre. Singh is a prominent figure of the Indian independence struggle. He is sometimes referred to as Shaheed-i-Azam Sardar Udham Singh (the expression “Shaheed-i-Azam,” means “the great martyr”). A district(Udham Singh Nagar) of Uttarakhand is named after him.

Singh was born Sher Singh on 26 December 1899, at Sunam in the Sangrur district of Punjab, India, to a Kamboj Sikh farming family. His father, Sardar Tehal Singh Jammu (known as Chuhar Singh before taking the Amrit), was a railway crossing watchman in the village of Upalli. His mother died in 1901, and his father in 1907.

After his father’s death, Singh and his elder brother, Mukta Singh, were taken in by the Central Khalsa Orphanage Putlighar in Amritsar. At the orphanage, Singh was administered the Sikh initiatory rites and received the name of Udham Singh. He passed his matriculation examination in 1918 and left the orphanage in 1919.

On 10 April 1919, a number of local leaders allied to the Indian National Congress including Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew were arrested under the Rowlatt Act. Protestors against the arrests were fired on by British troops, precipitating a riot during which British banks were burned and four Europeans were killed. On 13 April, over twenty thousand unarmed protestors were assembled in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar. Singh and his friends from the orphanage were serving water to the crowd.

Troops were dispatched to restore order after the riots, under the command of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer. Dyer ordered his troops to fire without warning on the assembled crowd in Jallianwala Bagh. Since the only exit was barred by soldiers, people tried to escape by climbing the park walls or jumping into a well for protection. An estimated 379 people were killed and over 1,200 were wounded although that has been debated.

Singh was deeply affected by the event. The governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer, had supported the massacre, and Singh held him responsible.

Singh became involved in revolutionary politics and was deeply influenced by Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary group. In 1924, Singh became involved with the Ghadar Party, organizing Indians overseas towards overthrowing colonial rule. In 1927, he returned to India on orders from Bhagat Singh, bringing 25 associates as well as revolvers and ammunition. Soon after, he was arrested for possession of unlicensed arms. Revolvers, ammunition, and copies of a prohibited Ghadar Party paper called “Ghadr-i-Gunj” (“Voice of Revolt”) were confiscated. He was prosecuted and sentenced to five years in prison.

Upon his release from prison in 1931, Singh’s movements were under constant surveillance by the Punjab police. He made his way to Kashmir, where he was able to evade the police and escape to Germany. In 1934, Singh reached London, where he planned to assassinate Michael O’Dwyer.

On 13 March 1940, Michael O’Dwyer was scheduled to speak at a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Central Asian Society (now Royal Society for Asian Affairs) at Caxton Hall. Singh concealed his revolver in a cut-out book, entered the hall, and stood against the wall. As the meeting concluded, Singh shot O’Dwyer twice as he moved towards the speaking platform, killing him immediately. Others hurt in the shooting include Luis Dane, Lawrence Dundas, 2nd Marquess of Zetland, and Charles Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington. Singh did not attempt to flee and was arrested on site.

On 1 April 1940, Singh was formally charged with the murder of Michael O’Dwyer. While awaiting trial in Brixton Prison, Singh went on a 42-day hunger strike and had to be forcibly fed. On 4 June 1940, his trial commenced at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, before Justice Atkinson. When asked about his motivation, Singh explained, “I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it.

Singh was convicted and sentenced to death. On 31 July 1940, Singh was hanged at Pentonville Prison and buried within the prison grounds.

Legacy:
A museum dedicated to Singh is located in Amritsar, near Jallianwala Bagh.
Singh’s weapon, a knife, his diary, and a bullet from the shooting are kept in the Black Museum of Scotland Yard.
Singh has been the subject of a number of films: Jallian Wala Bagh (1977), Shaheed Uddham Singh (1977), and Shaheed Uddham Singh (2000).
Udham Singh Nagar district in Uttarakhand is named for Singh.
Singh is the subject of the 1998 track “Assassin” by Asian Dub Foundation.

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