September 3, 2021 6:15:38 am
The Kamboj community in Punjab has found itself in a peculiar situation amid the vociferous criticism of the renovated Jallianwala Bagh memorial. One one hand, the community is trying to defend the “misplaced criticism” of a Shaheed Udham Singh statue installed at the Bagh and on the other, they are unhappy with the way memorial has been renovated.
Who was Udham Singh?
Born in Sunam in Punjab’s Sangrur district in 1899, Udham Singh was a political activist who got associated with the Ghadar Party while in the US. The multi-ethnic party was believed to have communist tendencies and was founded by Sohan Singh Bhakna in 1913. Headquartered in California, the party was committed to the ouster of the British from India. In 1934, Udham Singh made his way to London with the purpose of assassinating Michael O’Dwyer, the British official under whose tenure as Punjab’s Lieutenant Governor over 1,000 men, women and children were massacred at the Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919. The firing on the unarmed people, who had gathered to celebrate Baisakhi, was ordered by General Reginald Dyer.
According to legend, Udham Singh, who would have been about 19 years old in 1999, was injured during the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh and spent the night among the bodies of the victims. He was able to move only the next morning. He had picked up blood-soaked mud of the Bagh, smeared it across his forehead and vowed to take revenge.
In 1940, Udham Singh shot dead O’Dwyer who had justified the firing by Dyer’s troops.
The statue controversy
The Kamboj community had installed a statue of Udham Singh at Jallianwala Bagh in 2018. However those criticising the renovation of Jallianwala Bagh, have been also been raising objections over the way statue has been designed.
“There are people criticising the renovation of Jallianwala Bagh. They have no idea that Shaheed Udham Singh’s statue is not part of the renovation. It was installed in 2018. They are targeting the statue just for the sake of criticism,” said Bobby Kamboj, president, International Sarav Kamboj Samaj, the body which funded the statue.
He further said, “The statue at the Bagh entrance represents Shaheed Udham Singh picking the blood-soaked soil in his hands. But people are criticising the posture. Others are questioning the style of the turban.”
Kamboj also released a 20-minute video to express the community’s feelings on the criticism.
“We believe that many people are criticising for the sake of criticism because they are against (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. We are not defending the fresh renovation…We know that no government cares for the history and legacy of martyrs,” said Kamboj. “Those criticising the statue don’t know that the Kamboj community paid all the expenses to install it. Amritsar has two statues of Shaheed Udham Singh and both were funded by Kamboj community. No government paid for it,” he added.
Kamboj accused BJP MP Shwait Malik for the controversy over Jallianwala Bagh renovation. “He (Malik) claims credit for renovation. But we are unable to understand where Rs 20 crore sent by the Union government has been spent,” said Kamboj.
He said it was sad that on the day PM dedicated the renovated memorial to the public, neither he nor Malik mentioned Shaheed Udham Singh. “The statue was defaced during the renovation. We got it painted. Government didn’t even care to restore the dignity of the statue,” Kamboj added.
The Sabha had also issued a press note on August 28 alleging that the renovation had led to the statue getting defaced.
It was during the government of Giani Zail Singh, from 1972 to 1977, that an idea to install statues of Udham Singh and Madan Lal Dhingra in Amritsar was conceived and the orders placed.
Udham Singh’s statue was installed in 1990 in front of Hall Gate while that of Dhingra had to wait for two more years.
Deep Singh, president, Shaheed Udham Singh Yadgiri Committee, Amritsar, said, “Punjab government had given orders to a Mumbai firm for the statues of Udham Singh and Dhingra. Some payment was also made by government to the firm initially. However, for a long time, no one from the government collected the statues or paid the remaining amount. It was our organisation that approached the firm in 1990s for the statue of Udham Singh.”
The committee was founded by the Kamboj community, which takes pride in Udham Singh who was also from the same community.
“The firm owner told us that he will deliver the statue only if we pay for both of them. So we paid for both and brought them to Amritsar,” said Deep Singh.
“We named the chowk after Udham Singh but governments didn’t do much to popularise the name,” he claimed.
Bobby Kamboj said, “It is a matter of regret that Udham Singh’s statues weren’t installed by government. We had to pursue it repeatedly and it could be installed at the Bagh 99 years after the tragedy.”
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