Remembering Udham Singh: The Man Who Avenged Jallianwala Bagh
On Udham Singh’s death anniversary, a closer look at the life of one of the unsung heroes of the freedom struggle.
Born on 26 December 1899, Sher Singh (who would later become Udham Singh) was the man who avenged the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by assassinating Michael O’Dwyer, the then governor general of Punjab.
Life Before Revolution
The elder of two sons, Udham Singh was born in Punjab’s Sunam district and lost his parents early in life. He, along with his brother, grew up at an orphanage.
For the first time in the early 1920s, he travelled abroad to East Africa working as a labourer, for the railway lines and then made his way to America. He lived there for five years under various aliases until he came in contact with Gadhar – a group of Punjabi immigrants in America, working towards an armed revolution against British rule in India.
He returned to Punjab in 1927.
After getting arrested for possessing illegal weapons that year, and being jailed for four years, he went to England in 1934.
Singh worked for several odd jobs in his life and in England, appeared as an extra in at least two Alexander Korda films – Elephant Boy (1937) and The Four Feathers (1939).
His first film did not even have a theatrical release in India.
Six Bullets and a Murder
After World War I ended, Indian soldiers came back to find a country more impoverished and less free than what they had left it as.
The events of 13 April 1919 was when resentment and anger among Indians reached their peak. When General Harry Dyer fired at the unarmed crowds at a peaceful gathering in Jallianwala Bagh, Udham Singh was a mere 20-year-old. He was deeply impacted by the events that unfolded and felt it was his destiny to avenge the horrors that occurred that day.
In an action, which took 20 years to culminate, Singh took his revenge by firing six bullets at the then 79-year-old Michael O’Dwyer in 1939. O’Dwyer was the governor general of Punjab in 1919 and was supportive of Dyer’s actions at Jallianwala Bagh.
In London’s Caxton Hall, where O’Dwyer was partaking in a discussion about Afghanistan, he was shot at and was killed instantly.
Udham Singh gave his name as Mohammad Singh Azad during the trial and met his maker in July 1940 when he was hanged at London’s Pentonville prison.
An RTI query revealed that the British government was in possession of 31 articles belonging to Udham Singh, contrary to the earlier belief that only four items were with them.
In a 2004 communication to the Indian High Commission, it was stated that only a revolver, ammunition, a cobbler’s knife and diaries belonging to Singh were with the Metropolitan Police. The whereabouts of any other belongings were “unknown” to authorities according to the same document.
(This story was originally published on 26 December 2016. It is being reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the death anniversary of Udham Singh.)
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