IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Udham Singh

29th December, 2020 History

Context: December 26 is the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Udham Singh, known for avenging the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.

  • In 1940, Singh shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer, the colonial official considered responsible for Jallianwala Bagh, where over 1,000 men, women and children lost their lives, and more than were 1,200 wounded.

Who was Udham Singh?

  • Singh, born in Sunam in Punjab’s Sangrur district in 1899, was a political activist who got associated with the Ghadar Party while in the US.
  • The multi-ethnic party was believed to have communist tendencies and was founded by Sohan Singh Bhakna in 1913.
  • Headquartered in California, the party was committed to the ouster of the British from India.
  • In 1934, Singh made his way to London with the purpose of assassinating O’Dwyer, who in 1919 had been the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab and, unsurprisingly, Singh considered O’Dwyer to be responsible for the massacre.

The assassination of O’Dwyer

  • On March 13, 1940, Udham Singh shot O’Dwyer at a meeting of the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society at Caxton Hill.
  • He was immediately arrested and held in Brixton prison. At the prison, Singh staged a 36-day hunger strike and in police statements and at the court referred to himself as Mohamed Singh Azad, to symbolise Hindu-Sikh-Muslim unity in the fight for India’s freedom.
  • He was sentenced to death and was hanged on July 31, 1940 at Pentonville Prison.
  • For avenging the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Singh is seen by many as a hero. Gandhi, though, had famously decried Singh’s revenge as an “act of insanity”.

Demand for a statue in Parliament

  • There have been several demands in the past few years for Udham Singh’s statue to be installed in Jallianwala Bagh and the Parliament complex.
  • Udham Singh Nagar district in Uttarakhand is named after the freedom fighter.