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Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Udham Singh was a political activist who killed Michael O'Dwyer, the colonial official responsible for the brutal Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Udham Singh was born on 26 December 1899 in Sunam, Sangrur district of Punjab, India. He belonged to Kamboj family of Jammu. Singh's mother died when he was an infant and his father, who was a farmer and also worked as the railway crossing watchman in the village of Upalli, died after some years. After his parents died, Udham Singh and his brother, Mukta Singh, were taken in by the Central Khalsa Orphanage Putlighar in Amritsar.

On 13 April 1919, over twenty thousand unarmed People assembled in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, to celebrate the important Hindu and Sikh festival of Baisakhi. At the same time, they peacefully protested against the arrest of local leaders of the Indian National Congress including Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew by the British. Only then, troops under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer opened fire on the crowd, killing thousands of innocents. Singh along his friends were present there as they were serving water in the programme.

This episode led Singh to get involve in revolutionary politics. Hence, in 1924, Singh joined the Ghadar Party and started organising campaigns overseas in which the main message was to overthrow British rule in India. But, in 1927, Singh returned to India on the orders of Bhagat Singh. Singh brought 25 associates as well as revolvers and ammunitions with him. Because of this, he was arrested for “possession of unlicensed arms", and was sent to jail for five years.

When Udham Singh was released in 1931, he went to Kashmir where he was able to evade the Punjab police and further made his way to Germany. In 1934, Singh reached London, where he found a job as an engineer, and simultaneously kept on planning to assassinate Michael O'Dwyer.

Michael O\u2019Dwyer. Michael O'Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab under whom the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place, was assassinated by Udham Singh. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

13 March 1940 was the day when Singh concealed a revolver inside a book in the Caxton Hall, where Michael O'Dwyer was to speak at a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Central Asian Society. Just when the meeting ended, Singh shot O'Dwyer twice, and one of these bullets passed through O'Dwyer's heart and right lung, killing him almost instantly. Following this act, Singh was arrested.

On 1 April 1940, Singh was charged for the murder of Michael O'Dwyer. When he was asked about why he did what he did, Singh 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."

In fact, when Singh was in custody, he called himself “Ram Mohammad Singh Azad", and this represented the three major religious communities of Punjab, along with “Azad" which means free.

On 4 June 1940, Singh's trial commenced at the Central Criminal Court before Justice Atkinson. V.K. Krishna Menon and St. John Hutchinson represented him, whereas G.B. McClure was the prosecuting barrister. Again, when he was asked about 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 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 the British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty."

Following this, Singh was sentenced to death on 31 July 1940. He was hanged at Pentonville Prison by Albert Pierrepoint.

Udham Singh's remains are preserved at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab. On every 31 July, people of India pay tribute to this freedom fighter who, without thinking of himself, took vengeance for the blood of his fellow innocent citizens.

Keywords: Udham Singh, Freedom Fighter, India, Independence, British Rule.


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