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Explained: Who was freedom fighter Udham Singh?

Udham Singh was a political activist who got associated with the Ghadar Party while in the US. In 1940, Singh shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer, the colonial official considered responsible for Jallianwala Bagh.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 29, 2020 8:41:59 am
Udham Singh, Jallianwala BaghThere have been several demands in the past few years for Udham Singh’s statue to be installed in Jallianwala Bagh and the Parliament complex.

Today (December 26) is the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Udham Singh, known for avenging the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.

In 1940, Singh shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer, the colonial official considered responsible for Jallianwala Bagh, where over 1,000 men, women and children lost their lives, and more than were 1,200 wounded.

Who was Udham Singh?

Singh, born in Sunam in Punjab’s Sangrur district in 1899, 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, Singh made his way to London with the purpose of assassinating O’Dwyer, who in 1919 had been the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab and, unsurprisingly, Singh considered O’Dwyer to be responsible for the massacre.

As per the book “A Patient Assassin” written by Anita Anand, when O’Dwyer ordered Brigadier Reginald Dyer to Amritsar before the massacre, he was worried that there might be a second Indian mutiny, given the Hindu-Muslim unity and the demonstrations and strikes. Instead of Dyer, who instructed his men to open fire at the crowd gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, O’Dwyer is considered to be the actual perpetrator, since Dyer could not have executed it without his permission.

According to legend, Udham Singh, who would have been about 19 years old at the time, was injured during the massacre and surrounded by the dead until he was able to move till the next morning. Then he supposedly picked up some blood-soaked earth and smeared it across his forehead and vowed to take revenge.

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The assassination of O’Dwyer

On March 13, 1940, Udham Singh shot O’Dwyer at a meeting of the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society at Caxton Hill. He was immediately arrested and held in Brixton prison. At the prison, Singh staged a 36-day hunger strike and in police statements and at the court referred to himself as Mohamed Singh Azad, to symbolise Hindu-Sikh-Muslim unity in the fight for India’s freedom. He was sentenced to death and was hanged on July 31, 1940 at Pentonville Prison. In 1974, his remains were sent back to India and he was cremated in his village in Sunam.

For avenging the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Singh is seen by many as a hero. Gandhi, though, had famously decried Singh’s revenge as an “act of insanity”.

Demand for a statue in Parliament

There have been several demands in the past few years for Udham Singh’s statue to be installed in Jallianwala Bagh and the Parliament complex. In July 2018, Punjab MP Prem Singh Chandumajra demanded that his portrait be put in Parliament. In 2018, one part of this demand was fulfilled when his statue was installed at Jallianwala Bagh during Baisakhi.

Udham Singh Nagar district in Uttarakhand is named after the freedom fighter.

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