Shaheed Sardar Udham Singh | 26 December 1899 | 31 July 1940


Udham Singh, a revolutionary nationalist . Singh was born Sher Singh on 26 December 1899, at Sunam in the Sangrur district of Punjab, India, to a Kamboj Sikh . 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.

 

Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh

On April 13, 1919, Vaisakhi day, over twenty thousand unarmed Indians assembled in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, to register a protest against British colonial rule in India and against the arrest and deportation of Dr. Satya Pal, Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew, and a few others under the unpopular Rowlatt Act. Udham Singh and his mates from the orphanage were serving water to the crowd.

A band of 90 soldiers armed with rifles and Khukhris marched to the park accompanied by two armoured cars on which machine guns were mounted. The vehicles were unable to enter the Bagh owing to a narrow entrance.  Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer was in command. The troops had entered the Bagh by about 5:15 PM. With no warning to the crowd to disperse, Dyer ordered his troops to open fire, concentrating especially on the areas where the crowd was thickest. The attack lasted for about ten to fifteen minutes. Since there was only one exit not barred by soldiers, people tried to climb the walls of the park. Some also jumped into a well inside the compound to escape the bullets. A plaque in the monument says that 120 bodies were plucked out of the well alone. [5]
By the time the smoke cleared, hundreds of people had been killed and thousands injured. Official estimates put the figures at 379 killed (337 men, 41 boys and a six week old baby) and 200 injured, but other reports estimated the deaths well over 1,000[6] and possibly 1,300. According to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Girdhari Lal, the deaths were more than 1,000. Swami Shardanand places the figure at more than 1,500.[7] Dr Smith, the Civil Surgeon of Amritsar, gives an even larger number: 1,800 dead.[8] The casualty figures were never fully ascertained for political reasons. The wounded could not be moved from where they had fallen, as a curfew had been declared. Debate about the actual figures continues to this day. Official figures say that 1,650 rounds of ammunition had been used.[9]

New research has revealed that the massacre occurred with the Governor’s full connivance, “to teach the Indians a lesson, to make a wide impression and to strike terror through-out Punjab”.[10]

Revolutionary and freedom fighter

Singh plunged into active politics and became a dedicated revolutionary. He left the orphanage and moved from one country to another to achieve his secret objective, aiming ultimately to reach his prey in London. At various stages in his life, Singh went by the following names: Sher Singh, Udham Singh, Udhan Singh, Ude Singh, Uday Singh, Frank Brazil, and Ram Mohammed Singh Azad. He reached Africa in 1920, moving to Nairobi in 1921. Singh tried for the United States but was unsuccessful. He returned to India in 1924, reaching the U.S. that same year. There Singh became actively involved with freedom fighters of the Ghadar Party, an Indian group known for its revolutionary politics and its legendary member, Lala Hardyal. Singh spent three years in revolutionary activities in the U.S. and organised Overseas Indians for the freedom struggle. He returned to India in July 1927 on orders from Bhagat Singh. [14]. He was accompanied by 25 associates from the U.S. and brought a consignment of revolvers and ammunition.[15]

On 30 August 1927 Singh was arrested at Amritsar for possession of unlicensed arms. Some revolvers, a quantity of ammunition, and copies of a prohibited Ghadar Party paper called “Ghadr-i-Gunj” (“Voice of Revolt”) were confiscated. He was prosecuted under section 20 of the Arms Act.[16] In the court, Singh stated that he had intended to murder British Imperialists who were ruling over Indians, and that he fully sympathised with the Bolsheviks, as their objective was to liberate India from foreign control. Singh was sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment. 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.

Udham Singh was released from jail on 23 October 1931. He returned to his native Sunam, but constant harassment from the local police on account of his revolutionary activities led him back to Amritsar. There he opened a shop as a signboard painter, assuming the name of Mohammed Singh Azad.

For three years, Udham Singh continued his revolutionary activities in Punjab and also worked on a plan to reach London and kill O’Dwyer. His movements were under constant surveillance by the Punjab police. He visited his native village in 1933, then proceeded to Kashmir on a clandestine revolutionary mission, where he was able to dupe the police and escape to Germany. Reaching London in 1934, he took up residence at 9 Adler Street, Commercial Road. 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 travelling purposes.[17] His real objective however, always remained Michael O’Dwyer. Singh also purchased a six-chamber revolver and a load of ammunition.[18] Despite numerous opportunities to strike, Singh waited for an occasion when the killing would have the most impact and spread the news around the World.[19]

Shooting in Caxton Hall

At last, the opportunity came on 13 March 1940, almost 21 years after the Jallianwala Bagh killings: A joint meeting of the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society was scheduled at Caxton Hall, and among the speakers was Sir Michael O’Dwyer. 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. Then Singh fired at Lord Zetland, the Secretary of State for India, injuring him but not seriously. Incidentally, Sir Luis Dane was hit by one shot, which broke his radius bone and dropped him to the ground with serious injuries. A bullet also hit Lord Lamington, whose right hand was shattered. Udham Singh did not intend to escape. He was arrested on the spot.

Although the Indian press generally condemned the incident, some Indians regarded Singh’s action as justified and an important step in India’s struggle to end British colonial rule in India.[11]

Udham Singh mainly held Michael O’Dwyer responsible for what came to be known as the Amritsar Massacre. The incident had greatly shaken young Singh and proved a turning point in his life. After bathing in the holy sarovar (pool of nectar), Udham Singh took a silent vow and solemn pledge in front of the Golden Temple to wreak a vengeance on the perpetrators of the crime and to restore honour to what he saw as a humiliated nation.

Reaction to Caxton Hall Shooting

 

There was a mixed reaction to the shooting in India. The Congress-controlled Indian press generally condemned Singh’s action. But others like Amrit Bazar Patrika and New Statesman took different views. The general public and revolutionary circles glorified Udham Singh’s actions as heroic and patriotic. At a public meeting in Kanpur, a spokesman stated that “at last an insult and humiliation of the nation had been avenged”. Similar sentiments were expressed at numerous other places country-wide.[21] Fortnightly reports from political situation from Bihar mentioned “It is true that we had no love lost for Sir Michael. The indignities he heaped upon our countrymen in Punjab have not been forgotten”.

In its March 18, 1940 issue, Amrit Bazar Patrika wrote, “O’Dwyer’s name is connected with Punjab incidents which India will never forget”. New Statesman observed: “British conservatism has nor discovered how to deal with Ireland after two centuries of rule. Similar comment may be made on British rule in India. Will the historians of the future have to record that it was not the Nazis but the British ruling class which destroyed the British Empire”.

In a statement to the Press, Mahatama Gandhi condemned the Caxton Hall shooting saying that “the outrage has caused me deep pain. I regard it as an act of insanity…I hope this will not be allowed to affect political judgement” [22]. A week later, Harijan, his newspaper further wrote: “We had our differences with Michael O’Dwyer but that should not prevent us from being grieved over his assassination. We have our grievances against Lord Zetland. We must fight his reactionary policies, but there should be no malice or vindictiveness in our resistance. The accused is intoxicated with the thought of bravery” [23].

Pt Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his National Herald: “Assassination is regretted but it is earnestly hoped that it will not have far-reaching repercussions on political future of India. We have not been unaware of the trend of the feeling particularly among the younger section of Indians. Situation in India demands immediate handling to avoid further deterioration and we would warn the Government that even Gandhi’s refusal to start civil disobedience instead of being God-sent may lead to adoption of desperate measures by the youth of the country”. [24]

The Punjab section of Congress Party in the Punjab Assembly led by Dewan Chaman Lal had refused to vote for the Premier’s motion framed to express abhorrence and condemnation of Caxton Hall outrage as well as to express sympathy with Lady O’Dwyer. [25]

In the Annual Session of All India Congress Committee (April 1940) held at Ramgarh where a National Week (6th to 13th April) in commemoration of 21st anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was being observed, the youth wing of the Indian National Congress Party started raising revolutionary slogans “Udham Singh Zindabad”, “Long Live Udham Singh” and “Inquilab Zindabad” in support of Udham Singh approving and applauding his action as patriotic and heroic.[26]

Indian Government’s own secret reports abundantly reveal that the murder of O’Dwyer had proved a catalyst to ignite and excite great satisfaction among the people of India[27].

Most of the press worldwide remembered the story of Jallianwala Bagh and held Sir Michael O’Dwyer fully responsible for the events. Singh was called “fighter for freedom”, and his action was said to be “an expression of the pent-up fury of the down-trodden Indian People”.[28] Bergeret, published in large-scale from Rome at that time, ascribed the greatest significance to the circumstance and praised Udham Singh’s action as courageous.[29] Berliner Borsen Zeitung called the event “The torch of the Indian freedom”, and German radio repeatedly broadcast: “The cry of tormented people spoke with shots”. and “Like the elephants, the Indians never forgive their enemies. They strike them down even after 20 years”.

Trial and execution

 

While in Police custody, Singh remarked: “Is Zetland dead? He ought to be. I put two into him right there” indicating with his hand the pit of his stomach in left side. Singh remained quiet for several minutes and then again said: “Only one dead eh’. I thought I could get more. I must have been too slow. There were a lot of women about, you know”.

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.[31] Singh explained his actions to the court at his trial:

I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it.

Nevertheless, Atkinson sentenced him to death. On 31 July 1940, Udham Singh was hanged at Pentonville Prison. As with other executed prisoners, he was buried later that afternoon within the prison grounds. In March 1940, Indian National Congress leaders, including Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru and Mahatama Gandhi, condemned the action of Udham as senseless, but in 1962, Nehru applauded Singh with the following statement in the daily Partap: “I salute Shaheed-i-Azam Udham Singh with reverence who had kissed the noose so that we may be free.”[33].

Hindustan Socialist Republican Army condemned Mahatama Gandhi’s statement referring to Bhagat Singh as well as also to the capital punishment of Udham Singh, which it considered to be a challenge to the Indian Youths.

Weapon used by Udham Singh

These Picture source from thenewsikh.com

Udham Singh used a webley .45 caliber revolver, firing all six shots. The weapon was a .455 caliber, but the rounds used were of .45 caliber, accounting for its inaccuracy during the shooting. Supposedly he procured the revolver from a soldier in the London Pub. His weapon, a knife and his diary along with a bullet (fired on the day of the shooting) are kept in the Black Museum, New Scotland Yard, 10 The Broadway, London.

Repatriation

In July 1974, Udham Singh’s remains were exhumed and repatriated to India at the request of S. Sadhu Singh Thind an MLA from Sultanpur Lodhi at that time. He asked Indira Gandhi to force the then British Government to hand over Udham Singh’s remains to India. Sadhu Singh Thind went to England as a special envoy of the Indian Government and brought back the remains of the Shaheed. He was given a martyr’s reception. Among those who received his casket at Delhi airport were Shankar Dayal Sharma, then president of the Congress Party, and Zail Singh, then chief minister of Punjab who went on to become president of India. Indira Gandhi, the prime minister, also laid a wreath. He was later cremated in his birthplace of Sunam in Punjab and his ashes were immersed in holy water of the Ganga.

Udham Singh’s Last Words

On the 31st July, 1940, Udham Singh was hanged at Pentonville jail, London. On the 4th of June in the same year he had been arraigned before Mr. Justice Atkinson at the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey. Udham Singh was charged with the murder of Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the former Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab who had approved of the action of Brigadier-General R.E.H. Dyer at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar on April 13, 1919, which had resulted in the massacre of hundreds of men, women and children and left over 1,000 wounded during the course of a peaceful political meeting. The assassination of O’Dwyer took place at the Caxton Hall, Westminster. The trial of Udham Singh lasted for two days, he was found guilty and was given the death sentence. On the 15th July, 1940, the Court of Criminal Appeal heard and dismissed the appeal of Udham Singh against the death sentence.

Prior to passing the sentence Mr. Justice Atkinson asked Udham Singh whether he had anything to say. Replying in the affirmative he began to read from prepared notes. The judge repeatedly interrupted Udham Singh and ordered the press not to report the statement. Both in Britain and India the government made strenuous efforts to ensure that the minimum publicity was given to the trial. Reuters were approached for this purpose.

The father of Udham Singh, Tehl Singh, was born into a poor peasant family and worked as a Railway Gate Keeper at the railway level crossing at Village Uppali. Udham Singh was born on 28th December, 1899 at Sanam, Sangrur District, Punjab. After the death of his father Udham Singh was brought up in a Sikh orphanage in Amritsar. The massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 was deeply engraved in the mind of the future martyr. At the age of 16 years Udham Singh defied the curfew and was wounded in the course of retrieving the body of the husband of one Rattan Devi in the aftermath of the slaughter. Subsequently Udham Singh travelled abroad in Africa, the United States and Europe. Over the years he met Lala Lajpat Rai, Kishen Singh and Bhagat Singh, whom he considered his guru and ‘his best friend’. In 1927 Udham Singh was arrested in Amritsar under the Arms Act. The impact of the Russian revolution on him is indicated by the fact that amongst the revolutionary tracts found by the raiding party was Rusi Ghaddar Gian Samachar. After serving his sentence and visiting his home town, Udham Singh resumed, his travels abroad. If it was the Jallianwala Bagh massacre which provided the turning point of his life which led him to avenge the dead, it was Bhagat Singh who provided him with the inspiration to pursue the path of revolutionary struggle.

Echoes of Kartar Singh Sarabha and Bhagat Singh may be found in the words of Udham Singh in the wake of the assassination of O’Dwyer.

‘I don’t care, I don’t mind dying. What Is the use of waiting till you get old? This Is no good. You want to die when you are young. That is good, that Is what I am doing’.

After a pause he added:

‘I am dying for my country’.

In a statement given on March 13th, 1940 be said:

‘I just shot to make protest. I have seen people starving In India under British Imperialism. I done it, the pistol went off three or four times. I am not sorry for protesting. It was my duty to do so. Put some more. Just for the sake of my country to protest. I do not mind my sentence. Ten, twenty, or fifty years or to be hanged. I done my duty.’

In a letter from Brixton Prison of 30th March, 1940, Udham Singh refers to Bhagat Singh in the following terms:

‘I never afraid of dying so soon I will be getting married with execution. I am not sorry as I am a soldier of my country it is since 10 years when my friend has left me behind and I am sure after my death I will see him as he is waiting for me it was 23rd and I hope they will hang me on the same date as he was.’

The British courts were able to silence for long the last words of Udham Singh. At last the speech has been released from the British Public Records Office.

 

Shorthand notes of the Statement made by Udham Singh after the Judge had asked him if he had anything to say as to why sentence should not be passed upon him according to Law.

Facing the Judge, he exclaimed, ‘I say down with British Imperialism. You say India do not have peace. We have only slavery. Generations of so called civilization has brought for us everything filthy and degenerating known to the human race. All you have to do is read your own history. If you have any human decency about you, you should die with shame. The brutality and bloodthirsty way in which the so called intellectuals who call themselves rulers of civilization in the world are of bastard blood…’

MR. JUSTICE ATKINSON: I am not going to listen to a political speech. If you have anything relevant to say about this case say it.

UDHAM SINGH: I have to say this. I wanted to protest.

The accused brandished the sheaf of papers from which he had been reading.

THE JUDGE: Is it in English?

UDHAM SINGH: You can understand what I am reading now.

THE JUDGE: I will understand much more if you give it to me to read.

UDHAM SINGH: I want the jury, I want the whole lot to hear it.

Mr. G.B. McClure (Prosecuting) reminded the Judge that under Section 6 of the Emergency Powers Act he could direct that Udham Singh’s speech be not reported or that it could be heard in camera.

THE JUDGE (to the accused): You may take it that nothing will be published of what you say. You must speak to the point. Now go on.

UDHAM SINGH: I am protesting. This is what I mean. I am quite innocent about that address. The jury were misled about that address. I am going to read this now.

THE JUDGE: Well, go on.

While the accused was perusing the papers, the Judge reminded him ‘You are only to say why sentence should not be passed according to law.’

UDHAM SINGH (shouting): ‘I do not care about sentence of death. It means nothing at all. I do not care about dying or anything. I do not worry about it at all. I am dying for a purpose.’ Thumping the rail of the dock, he exclaimed, ‘We are suffering from the British Empire.’ Udham Singh continued more quietly. ‘I am not afraid to die. I am proud to die, to have to free my native land and I hope that when I am gone, I hope that in my place will come thousands of my countrymen to drive you dirty dogs out; to free my country.’

‘I am standing before an English jury. I am in an English court. You people go to India and when you come back you are given a prize and put in the House of Commons. We come to England and we are sentenced to death.’

‘I never meant anything; but I will take it. I do not care anything about it, but when you dirty dogs come to India there comes a time when you will be cleaned out of India. All your British Imperialism will be smashed.’

‘Machine guns on the streets of India mow down thousands of poor women and children wherever your so-called flag of democracy and Christianity flies.’

‘Your conduct, your conduct – I am talking about the British government. I have nothing against the English people at all. I have more English friends living in England than I have in India. I have great sympathy with the workers of England. I am against the Imperialist Government.’

‘You people are suffering – workers. Everyone are suffering through these dirty dogs; these mad beasts. India is only slavery. Killing, mutilating and destroying – British Imperialism. People do not read about it in the papers. We know what is going on in India.’

MR. JUSTICE ATKINSON: I am not going to hear any more.

UDHAM SINGH: You do not want to listen to any more because you are tired of my speech, eh? I have a lot to say yet.

THE JUDGE: I am not going to hear any more of that statement.

UDHAM SINGH: You ask me what I have to say. I am saying it. Because you people are dirty. You do not want to hear from us what you are doing in India.

Thrusting his glasses back into his pocket, Udham Singh exclaimed three words in Hindustani and then shouted, Down with British Imperialism! Down with British dirty dogs!’

As he turned to leave the dock, the accused spat across the solicitor’s table.

After Singh had left the dock, the Judge turned to the Press and said:

‘I give a direction to the Press not to report any of the statement made by the accused in the dock. You understand, members of the press?’

Lalkar, July-August, 1996.

 

 

 

Udham Singh’s Grandson Jeet Singh Is A Lowly Labourer

Shaheed Udham Singh’s grandson “Jeet Singh” works as a laborer in Punjab. The family has never received any compensation or support from the government. How ironic that a man can give his life for his country and the country in return gives him nothing. He could have “sold out” at any time to the British and lived a life of luxury. Financial stability would have also been secured for many generations of his family. Instead they are working in demeaning conditions. Many political leaders have made promises including the last President Zail Singh but none has come through. Jeet Singh lives in Sangrur village of Punjab with his two sons.

Shivnath Jha and Neena Jha, the husband and wife journalist team from Delhi published the book “Heroes & Martyrs: Their Neglected Descendants 1857-1947”. They cover the stories of 22 families of freedom fighters’ descendents. “We have come a long way since India became independent on 15th August 1947. But it is ironical that the present generation of India does not even know how many young people and freedom fighters laid down their lives for the sake of the country. Even more ironical is the fact that not even five percent population of this huge nation actually remembers those who died during the freedom struggle”.

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