India pays tributes to Shaheed Udham Singh who devoted his life to avenge the Jallianwala Bagh massacre…writes Kaliph Anaz. Singh was hanged at Pentonville Prison on July 31, 1940 in London for assassinating Michael O’ Dwyer, the former Lieutenant Governor of Punjab
Rich tributes were paid on Wednesday, the martyrdom day of Udham Singh, who devoted his life to avenge the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
Belonging to the Ghadar Party, Udham Singh was hanged on July 31, 1940 in London for assassinating Michael O’ Dwyer, the former Lieutenant Governor of Punjab.
According to legend, a young, low-caste orphan, Udham Singh, was injured in the attack, and remained in the Bagh, surrounded by the dead and dying until he was able to move the next morning. Then, he supposedly picked up a handful of blood-soaked earth, smeared it across his forehead and vowed to kill the men responsible, no matter how long it took. BBC journalist Anita Anand compiles that journey in her book Patient Assassin.
Remembering the freedom fighter, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh tweeted: “Humble tributes to Sardar Udham Singhji who sacrificed his life to avenge the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The saga of his courage and valour would remain forever etched in the hearts.”
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said: “Heartiest tributes to the brave son of Mother India Shaheed Sardar #UdhamSinghji on his ‘Balidan Diwas’. The nation will always be grateful for your commitment & supreme sacrifice.”
Humble tributes to Sardar Udham Singh ji who sacrificed his life to avenge the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The saga of his courage & valour will remain forever etched in our hearts. I join a grateful nation in remembering the supreme sacrifice of #ShaheedUdhamSingh. pic.twitter.com/pAPDzWLBaJ
— Capt.Amarinder Singh (@capt_amarinder) July 31, 2019
Anita Anand tells the remarkable story of one Indian’s twenty-year quest for revenge, taking him around the world in search of those he held responsible for the Amritsar massacre of 1919, which cost the lives of hundreds.
When Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, ordered Brigadier General Reginald Dyer to Amritsar, he wanted him to bring the troublesome city to heel. Sir Michael had become increasingly alarmed at the effect Gandhi was having on his province, as well as recent demonstrations, strikes and shows of Hindu-Muslim unity. All these things, in Sir Michael’s mind at least, were a precursor to a second Indian Mutiny.
What happened next shocked the world. An unauthorised political gathering in the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in April 1919 became the focal point for Sir Michael’s law enforcers. Dyer marched his soldiers into the walled garden, filled with thousands of unarmed men, women and children, blocking the only exit. Then, without issuing any order to disperse, he instructed his men to open fire, turning their guns on the thickest parts of the crowd. For ten minutes, they continued firing, stopping only when 1650 bullets had been fired. Not a single shot was fired in retaliation.
What greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?
According to legend, a young, low-caste orphan, Udham Singh, was injured in the attack, and remained in the Bagh, surrounded by the dead and dying until he was able to move the next morning. Then, he supposedly picked up a handful of blood-soaked earth, smeared it across his forehead and vowed to kill the men responsible, no matter how long it took.
The truth, as the author has discovered, is more complex but no less dramatic. She traced Singh’s journey through Africa, the United States and across Europe before, in March 1940, he finally arrived in front of O’Dwyer in a London hall.
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, London. Singh concealed inside his jacket pocket a revolver he had earlier purchased from a soldier in a pub, then entered the hall and found an open seat.
As the meeting concluded, Singh shot O’Dwyer twice as he moved towards the speaking platform. One of these bullets passed through O’Dwyer’s heart and right lung, killing him almost immediately. Others injured in the shooting included Sir Louis Dane, Lawrence Dundas, 2nd Marquess of Zetland, and Charles Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington. Singh was arrested and tried for the killing.
While in custody, he called himself “Ram Mohammad Singh Azad”: the first three words of the name reflect the three major religious communities of Punjab (Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh); the last word “azad” (literally “free”) reflects his anti-colonial sentiment.
While awaiting his trial, Singh went on a 42-day hunger strike and was force fed. On 4 June 1940, his trial commenced at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, before Justice Atkinson, with V.K. Krishna Menon and St. John Hutchison representing him.
On 1 April 1940, Udham Singh was formally charged with the murder of Michael O’Dwyer, and remanded in custody at Brixton Prison. Initially asked to explain his motivations, Singh—who spoke poor English—stated: 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?
When asked about his motivation, Singh explained: 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. What greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?
On 31 July 1940, Singh was hanged at Pentonville Prison. His remains are preserved at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab. On every 31 July, marches are held in Sunam by various organisations and every statue of Singh in the city is paid tribute with flower garlands.