Shaheed Udham Singh Jayanti 2019: All you need to know about the man who avenged Jallianwala Bagh massacre

Udham Singh, a revolutionary freedom fighter, famously or infamously assassinated the British administrator Michael O’Dwyer in 1940 to avenge the loss of Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

FP Staff July 31, 2019 11:15:06 IST
Shaheed Udham Singh Jayanti 2019: All you need to know about the man who avenged Jallianwala Bagh massacre
  • Udham Singh, a revolutionary freedom fighter, famously or infamously assassinated the British administrator Michael O’Dwyer in 1940 to avenge the loss of Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

  • Udham was just 20 when he witnessed and experienced the blood bath that took place at Jallianwala Bagh and he became a part of the armed resistance that was unfolding in and outside of India

  • Singh aimed at making his way to England to execute Michael O'Dwyer, who was the governor then was responsible for the brutal Jallianwala Bagh massacre. S

  • He opened fire at Michael O’Dwyer in Caxton Hall in London, killing him on the spot in March 1940. Udham Singh was hanged four months later at Pentonville Prison

Following the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, a little known Indian Udham Singh waited for 21 years to avenge the death of the innocents by assassinating British administrator Michael O’Dwyer in 1940. On his death anniversary today, 31 July, here’s throwing some light on the relatively unknown Indian freedom fighter.

Early life

Singh was born on 26 December 1899 and was orphaned at an early age. He was brought to the Khalsa orphanage in Amritsar when he was 5 and was had to self-sustain from an early age. Along with a certain set of value systems that was bestowed upon him from the orphanage, Singh was also growing up at a time when Punjab was in deep political turmoil. The young boy grew up observing the intense political situations developing around him.

Shaheed Udham Singh Jayanti 2019 All you need to know about the man who avenged Jallianwala Bagh massacre

Udham Singh. News18

The beginning

In the year 1919, a popular resentment was making its way through against the British in Punjab. What fueled the resentment was the way British used to recruit soldiers and make them a part of their army. There was also resentment on how they forced contributions of funds towards World War I. Apart from these two issues, the British government passed the 'Rowlatt Act', which solely came into power to extend and strengthen the repressive wartime measures.

Due to such stringent and a counterproductive Act, Mahatma Gandhi called for a nationwide protest. He received an immensely positive response from Punjab. This left the then British administration in Punjab, namely Lt. Governor Michael O'Dwyer absolutely panic-stricken.

Due to the protest, a number of local leaders supporting it were arrested by the Britishers under the Rowlatt Act and were imprisoned. This didn’t sit well with the citizens in Punjab where the majority of the population was supporting Gandhi's protest to the hilt. Revolts broke out in the state as anger and discontentment were rising against the government leading to riots between the British troops and civilians.

To regain control and order in the state, the Governor handed the charge of the situation to Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer. The first thing Dyer did to uproot tensions, was ban public gatherings, which according to him accumulated mass protests and riots.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

On 13 April, 1919, the day of the Baisakhi festival (festival of harvest), about 20,000 unarmed men, women and children gathered at Amritsar's Jallianwala Bagh. Many of them had come from out of towns unaware of the ban on public gatherings. Singh and his friends were present at Jallianwala as the turnout celebrated the festival in an open space.

While the crowd gathered to celebrate the festival, General Dyer arrived with his troops, sealed the only exit to the park and opened fire without any warning on the unarmed crowd. The crowd ran helter-skelter for their lives, but in reality, the park didn't have any place to shelter anyone from the firing. Except a well, right in the centre of it, where several women and children jumped in to seek protection. Many people lost their lives in the horrific massacre, but according to the official tally, there were 400 killed and 1,200 injured. However, unofficial records claim the count to be a lot higher.

Singh was just 20 years old when he witnessed such brutality. This incident shaped his future as it made him a part of the armed resistance that was unfolding in and outside of India and soon he made his way to the United States of America.

How his fight against the British developed

While in San Francisco, Singh came across some members of the Ghadar party-a revolutionary movement organised by immigrant Punjabi-Sikhs to secure India's independence. The diaspora operated from the US and aided India with funds to fight for independence. To support the movement, he would travel across the US, using several aliases such as Ude Singh, Sher Singh and Frank Brazil.

In 1927, Singh who was highly influenced by Bhagat Singh was asked to head back to India to help out with the revolution back in the country. Upon returning he was imprisoned for four years for running Ghadr party's radical publication 'Ghadr Di Gunj'.

Even though Singh was released in 1931, he was under constant surveillance of the police because of his association with Bhagat Singh. He eventually escaped the surveillance and made his way to Germany to plan events for independence without any further intervention.

However, Singh aimed at making his way to England to execute Michael O'Dwyer, who was the then governor of Punjab responsible for the brutal Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Singh finally arrived in England in 1933 and worked odd jobs like that of a mechanic, carpenter among others.

When Udham Singh avenged the loss:

Singh was involved in odd jobs and also ventured in acting and featured as an extra in two Alexander Korda movies -- Elephant Boy (1937) and The Four Feathers (1939).

But he never forgot his eventual goal- the execution of Dwyer. He opened fire at Michael O’Dwyer in Caxton Hall in London, killing him on the spot in March 1940. Singh was hanged four months later at Pentonville Prison and his mortal remains were handed over to India in 1974.

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