Udham Singh

Udham Singh
Martyr Udham Singh Kambhoj.jpg
Born26 December 1899
Died31 July 1940(1940-07-31) (aged 40)
Barnsbury, England, UK
OccupationFreedom fighter
OrganizationGhadar Party, Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, Indian Workers' Association
MovementIndian independence movement
  • Tehal Singh (father)

Udham Singh (26 December 1899 – 31 July 1940) was an Indian marxist[1] revolutionary belonging to Ghadar Party and HSRA, best known for assassinating Michael O'Dwyer, the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India, on 13 March 1940. The assassination was done in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, for which O'Dwyer was responsible.[2] Singh was subsequently tried and convicted of murder and hanged in July 1940. While in custody, he used the name Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, which represents the three major religions of India and his anti-colonial sentiment.[3]

Udham Singh is a well-known figure of the Indian independence movement. He is also referred to as Shaheed-i-Azam Sardar Udham Singh (the expression "Shaheed-i-Azam", means "the great martyr"). A district (Udham Singh Nagar) of Uttarakhand was named after him to pay homage in October 1995 by the Mayawati government.[4]

Early life

Udham Singh was born into a Punjabi Kamboj Sikh family on 26 December 1899 at Sunam, Sangrur district of Punjab, India.[5] He belonged to Kamboj family of Jammu gotra (sub-caste) and by his historic martyrdom upheld the valiant Kshatriya tradition of the Kambojas.[6][7][8][9][10] His mother died when he was an infant, and his father, Tehal Singh, died some years later.[11] His father was a farmer and also worked as the railway crossing watchman in the village of Upalli.[citation needed]

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

Bullet marks, visible on preserved walls, at present-day Jallianwala Bagh

On 10 April 1919, a number of local leaders allied to the Indian National Congress including Satyapal and Saifuddin Kitchlew were arrested under the Rowlatt Act. Protestors against the arrests were fired on by British troops, precipitating a riot. On 13 April, over twenty thousand unarmed People were assembled in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar to celebrate the important Hindu and Sikh festival of Baisakhi, and to peacefully protest the arrests. Udham Singh and his friends from the orphanage were serving water to the crowd.[12] Troops under the command of Colonel Reginald Dyer opened fire on the crowd, killing several hundred; this became known variously as the Amritsar Massacre or the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Udham Singh became involved in revolutionary politics and was deeply influenced by Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary group.[13] In 1924, Udham Singh became involved with the Ghadar Party, organising Indians overseas towards overthrowing colonial rule. In 1927, he returned to India on orders from Bhagat Singh, bringing 25 associates as well as revolvers and ammunition. Soon after, he was arrested for possession of unlicensed arms. Revolvers, ammunition, and copies of a prohibited Ghadar Party paper called "Ghadr-i-Gunj" ("Voice of Revolt") were confiscated. He was prosecuted and sentenced to five years in prison.

Upon his release from prison in 1931, Singh's movements were under constant surveillance by the Punjab police. He made his way to Kashmir, where he was able to evade the police and escape to Germany. In 1934, he reached London, where he found employment as an engineer. Privately, he formed plans to assassinate Michael O'Dwyer.[14][15] In Singh's diaries for 1939 and 1940, he occasionally misspells O'Dwyer's surname as "O'Dyer", leaving a possibility he may have confused O'Dwyer with General Dyer.[16]

Shooting in Caxton 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 a revolver inside a book, which ad pages cut in the shape of a revolver. This revolver was purchased by him from a soldier in a pub.[17] Then he 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 instantly.[16] Others injured in the shooting included Sir Louis Dane, Lawrence Dundas, 2nd Marquess of Zetland,[18] and Charles Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington. Singh was arrested immediately after the shooting.[19]

Murder, trial, and execution

Udham Singh (second from the left) being taken from 10 Caxton Hall after the assassination of Michael O'Dwyer

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 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? ... 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.[20]

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.[3]

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 Hutchinson representing him. G. B. McClure was the prosecuting barrister.[21] 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. [22]

Singh was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On 31 July 1940, Singh was hanged at Pentonville Prison by Albert Pierrepoint. 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.

Singh's speech

Following his conviction, he made a speech which the judge directed should not be released to the press.[17] However, political activists who had set up the Shaheed Udham Singh Trust and working with the Indian Workers Association (GB), ran a campaign to have the court record of his statement published along with other material.[21] This proved successful in 1996, when his speech was published along with three further files covering the trial, and the Ghadar Directory, a document compiled by British intelligence in 1934 detailing 792 people regarded as a threat including Udham Singh.[21]

He started the speech with a denunciation of British Imperialism:

"I say down with British Imperialism. You say India do not have peace. We have only slavery Generations of so called civilisation has brought 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 blood thirsty way in which the so called intellectuals who call themselves rulers of civilisation in the world are bastard blood . . ."

At this point he was interrupted by the judge, but after some discussion he continued:

"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."

At this point the judge refused to hear any more, but Singh continued:

"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.

He then thrust his glasses back into his pocket, and exclaimed three words in Hindustani and then shouted:

'Down with British Imperialism! Down with British dirty dogs!"

He turned to leave the dock, spitting across the solicitor's table.[21]

When this material was published, it was reported in both British and Asian press, the statement was translated into Gurmukhi script and distributed at the Sikh Vaisaki Festival in Birmingham, April 1997.[21] John Major, the prime Minister at that time remarked: "The Amritsar Massacre was an unhappy episode in Indo-British relations which was controversial in both countries. Today [8 October 1996] I am glad to say, our relationship is excellent. India is an important partner and a close friend of this country."[21]


In its 18 March 1940 issue, Amrita Bazar Patrika wrote, "O'Dwyer's name is connected with Punjab incidents which India will never forget".[23] The Punjab section of Congress in the Punjab Assembly led by Dewan Chaman Lal refused to vote for the Premier's motion to condemn the assassination.[24] In April 1940, at the Annual Session of the All India Congress Committee held in commemoration of 21st anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, the youth wing of the Indian National Congress Party displayed revolutionary slogans in support of Singh, applauding his action as patriotic and heroic.[25]

Singh had some support from the international press. The Times of London called him a "fighter for freedom", his actions "an expression of the pent-up fury of the downtrodden Indian people."[26] Bergeret from Rome praised Singh's action as courageous.[27] In March 1940, Indian National Congress leader Jawahar Lal Nehru, condemned the action of Singh as senseless, however, in 1962, Nehru reversed his stance and applauded Singh with the following published statement: "I salute Shaheed-i-Azam Udham Singh with reverence who had kissed the noose so that we may be free."[24]

Repatriation of remains

In 1974, Singh's remains were exhumed and repatriated to India at the request of MLA Sadhu Singh Thind. Thind accompanied the remains back to India, where the casket was received by Indira Gandhi, Shankar Dayal Sharma and Zail Singh. Udham Singh was later cremated in his birthplace of Sunam in Punjab and his ashes were scattered in the Sutlej river. Some of his ashes were retained; these retained ashes are kept inside a sealed urn at Jallianwala Bagh.



  1. ^ Open University
  2. ^ Swami, Praveen (November 1997). "Jallianwala Bagh revisited: A look at the actual history of one of the most shocking events of the independence struggle". Frontline. 22. 14. India. pp. 1–14.
  3. ^ a b Farina Mir (2010). The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab. University of California Press. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-520-94764-1.
  4. ^ Singh, Anand Raj (12 March 2015). "Mayawati may create new district to tame old foe". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  5. ^ "Shaheed Udham Singh". Kamboj Society. 20 February 2009.
  6. ^ "No Revolver in Udham Singh's Hand at Jallianwala Bagh Statue 'Due to Govt's Wishes'". The Wire. 21 September 2021.
  7. ^ Islam, Shamsul (2006). Religious Dimensions of Indian Nationalism: A Study of RSS. Media House. ISBN 978-81-7495-236-3.
  8. ^ "Udham Singh became a villain in Britain, and a hero in India". Hindustan Times. 10 April 2019. Retrieved 5 June 2020.
  9. ^ Ramnath, Maia (1 December 2011). Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-95039-9.
  10. ^ "Where has Mohammad Singh Azad Gone". revolutionarydemocracy.org. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  11. ^ M.S. Gill (2007). Trials that Changed History: From Socrates to Saddam Hussein. Sarup & Sons. p. 179. ISBN 978-81-7625-797-8.
  12. ^ Sikander Singh (2002). Pre-meditated Plan of Jallianwala Massacre and Oath of Revenge, Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad. p. 139.
  13. ^ Academy of Punjab in North America. "Shaheed Udham Singh (1899–1940)".
  14. ^ Dr. Fauja Singh (1972). Eminent Freedom Fighters of Punjab. pp. 239–40.
  15. ^ Singh, Sikander (1998). Udham Singh, alias, Ram Mohammed Singh Azad: a saga of the freedom movement and Jallianwala Bagh. B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh.
  16. ^ a b The Murders of the Black Museum: 1870–1970 ISBN 978-1-854-71160-1 p. 364
  17. ^ a b The Murders of the Black Museum: 1870–1970 ISBN 978-1-854-71160-1 p. 365
  18. ^ Glasgow Herald 19 March 1940
  19. ^ The Black Museum ISBN 978-0-316-90332-5 pp. 364–365
  20. ^ The Murders of the Black Museum: 1870–1970 ISBN 978-1-854-71160-1 pp. 364–365
  21. ^ a b c d e f Singh Sahota, Teja; Singh Johal, Avtar; Singh Kirti, Karam (n.d.). Udham Singh's Last words "Down with British Imperialism". Shaheed Udham Singh Welfare Trust.
  22. ^ CRIM 1/1177, Public Record Office, London, p. 64
  23. ^ Vinay Lal (May 2008). "Manas: History and Politics, British India – Udham Singh in the Popular Memory". Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  24. ^ a b Singh, Sikander (1998). Udham Singh, alias, Ram Mohammed Singh Azad: a saga of the freedom movement and Jallianwala Bagh. B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh. p. 300.
  25. ^ Manmath Nath Gupta (1970). Bhagat Singh and his Times. Delhi. p. 18.
  26. ^ The Times. London. 16 March 1940. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  27. ^ Public and Judicial Department, File No L/P + J/7/3822. 10 Caxton Hall outrage. London: India Office Library and Records. pp. 13–14.
  28. ^ "Government of Punjab, India".
  29. ^ "Public Holidays 2016 and 2017".
  30. ^ "Rajnath Singh unveils statue of Udham Singh at Jallianwala Bagh". The Times of India. 14 March 2018. Retrieved 7 August 2021.

Further reading

External links


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