Udham Singh

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Shaheed Udham Singh (Punjabi: ਉਧਮ ਸਿੰਘ Hindi:उधम सिंहढ़) (Dec. 26, 1899 – July 31, 1940) was given the name Sher Singh shortly after his birth. He belonged a Jammu clan of Kamboj lineage. He was a Sikh, a Punjabi Marxist and a nationalist mostly known for his assassination of Sir Michael O'Dwyer in March 1940 in what has been described as an avengement of the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre.[1]

At one time Singh also went by the name Ram Mohammed Singh Azad, a name which use names associated with three of the religions of India: Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. 'Ram' is God's name in Hinduism; 'Mohammed' is the name of the Muslim Prophet; 'Singh' is the name given to all baptised Sikh males (also a traditional Rajput name) and 'Azad' meaning free or independent.

Singh, one of the better-known of the more extremist revolutionaries of the Indian freedom struggle, is also referred to as Shaheed-i-Azam Sardar Udham Singh (the expression "Shaheed-i-Azam" means "Great martyr").

Along with Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh is also believed to be one of the earliest Marxists/Bolsheviks in India.[2] While living in England in 1940, Singh assasinated Sir Michael O'Dwyer, who had been Governor of the Punjab at the time of the Amritsar Massacre, while General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer had ordered British Indian Army troops to fire on a large gathering of peaceful Indian protesters in Punjab, that had gathered in a garden (the Jallianwala Bagh) near the Harmandar Sahib (the Golden Temple) on Vaisakhi day in 1919. Traditionally Vaisakhi is a time of great celebration in the Punjab, when Sikhs from all over India gather by the thousands. The large crowd had gathered to protest a recent clampdown by the British Government, including the arrest of some activists, who like many other Indians were disappointed when rather than being awarded for their sacrifices during WWI, they were punished instead with the proposals of the the Rowlatt Act.

Early life

Sher Singh was born in Sunam in the Sangrur district of Punjab to a farming family headed by Sardar Tehal Singh (known as Chuhar Singh before taking Amrit).[3] Sardar Tehal Singh was at that time working as a watchman on a railway crossing in the neighbouring village of Upall. Sher Singh's mother died in 1901 when he was only 2 years old, his father followed in 1907.

With the help of Bhai Kishan Singh Ragi, both Sher Singh and his elder brother, Mukta Singh, were admitted to the Central Khalsa Orphanage Putlighar in Amritsar on October 24, 1907. They were administered the Sikh initiatory rites at the orphanage and received new names: Sher Singh took the name Udham Singh, his brother Mukta, who died nine years later in 1917, took the name Sadhu Singh. Having lost his mother and father, his brother's loss came as a great shock. While at the orphanage, Udham Singh was trained in various arts and crafts. 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. [4] 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.[13] 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.[20] 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.[12]

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". [30]

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. [32]

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[34].

Weapon used by Udham Singh

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.


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.

See also

External links


  1. ^ Swami P. The Queen's Visit. Jallianwala Bagh revisited. A look at the actual history of one of the most shocking events of the independence struggle.. Frontline. Vol. 14 :: No. 22 :: Nov. 1 - 14, 1997.
  2. ^ Metropolitan Police Report, file MEPO 3/1743, dated 16 March 1940
  3. ^ Government of India, Political Department, 1940, File No 41-G (Secret), Udham Singh, Caxton Hall Outrage; Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 2002, p 80, Prof Sikander Singh; Statement of Sher Singh alias Ude Singh alias Frank Brazil, son of Tehal Singh, caste Kamboj of Sunam, Patiala State, 1927, National Archives of India, New Delhi, p 1
  • 4. Pre-meditated Plan of Jallianwala Massacre and Oath of Revenge, Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 2002, p 139, Prof Sikander Singh
  • 5. A Plaque put up at the site of Jallianwala Bagh by Jallian Wala Bagh Trust bears these figures. These figures are based on the private sources. The private sources further state the numbers of dead to be over 1000 and wounded more than 1200 as against official figures of 367 dead (Home Political Deposit, September, 1920, No 23, National Archives of India, New Delhi; Report of Commissioners, Vol I, New Delhi). According to Civil Surgeon Dr Smith, the casuilities were over 1800 (Report of Commissioners, Vol I, New Delhi, p 105). The actual Casualty figures were never fully ascertained and disclosed for obvious political reasons.
  • 6. Home Political, Sept 1920, No 23, National archive of India, New Delhi
  • 7. Pre-meditated Plan of Jallianwala Massacre and Oath of Revenge, Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 2002, p 144-45, Prof Sikander Singh
  • 8. Report of Commissioners, appointed by the Punjab Sub-committee of Indian National Congress, Vol I, New Delhi, p 68
  • 9. Disorder Inquiry Committee Report, Vol II, p 191
  • 10. A Pre-Meditated Plan of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and Oath of Revenge, Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 2002, pp 133, 144, 294, Prof Sikander Singh; Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, A Premeditated Plan, Punjab University Chandigarh, 1969, p 24, Raja Ram
  • 11. Pre-meditated Plan of Jallianwala Massacre and Oath of Revenge, Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 2002, p 162, Prof Sikander Singh.
  • 12. Pre-meditated Plan of Jallianwala Massacre and Oath of Revenge, Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 2002, p 163, Prof Sikander Singh
  • 13. Eminent Freedom Fighters of Punjab, 1972, p 239-40, Dr Fauja Singh
  • 14. Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 1998, prof (Dr) Sikander Singh; Shaheed Udham Singh aka Muhammad Singh Azad, in Kambojas Through the Ages, 2005, p 332-333, S Kirpal Singh
  • 15. Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 2002, p 106, by prof Sikander Singh
  • 16. Challenge to Imperial Hegemony, The life of a Great Indian Patriot Udham Singh, p 88, Singh, Navtej.
  • 17. Eminent Freedom Fighters of Punjab, Punjabi University Patiala, 1972, p 240, Dr Fauja Singh
  • 18. Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singfh Azad, 1998, prof (Dr) Sikasnder Singh.
  • 19. Murder of Michael O’Dwyer, Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 2002, p 180-181, Prof Sikander Singh
  • 20. From Orphan to Martyr, Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 2002, pp 292-306, Prof Sikander Singh; cf: Jallainwala Bagh and the Raj, Jallianwala Bagh Commemoration Volume 1997, Patiala, p 179, Shiv Kumar Gupta
  • 21. Government of India, Home Department, Political File No 18/3/1940, National Archieves of India, New Delhi, p40
  • 22. Harijan, March 15, 1940
  • 23. Harijan, March 23, 1940
  • 24. National Herald, March 15, 1940.
  • 25. The Statesman, New Delhi, March 16, 1940; Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 1998, p 213
  • 26. Bhagat Singh and his Times, Delhi, 1970, p 18, Manmath Nath Gupta; Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 1998, p 215, prof (Dr) Sikander Singh.
  • 27. Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 1998, p 216, Prof (Dr) Sikander Singh
  • 28. The Times, London, March 16, 1940
  • 29. Public and Judicial Department, File No L/P + J/7/3822, Caxton Hall outrage, India Office Library and Records, London, pp 13-14
  • 30. Public and Judicial, (S) Department, File No 466/1936. Udham Singh Assassin of Michael O'Dwyer, Public Records Office, London, p 129.
  • 31. Eminent Freedom fighters of Punjab, p 240, Dr Fauja Singh
  • 32. CRIM 1/1177, Public Record Office, London, p 64
  • 33. Quoted in: Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 2002, p 300, prof (Dr) Sikander Singh
  • 34. Government of India, Home Department, Political (I) Secret File No 251/40, 1940, National Archives of India, New Delhi, p 1; Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, 1998, p 216, Prof (Dr) Sikander Singh