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Remembering Udham Singh, the brave heart who avenged Jallianwala Bagh massacre

On 13th April 1919, troops of the British Indian Army fired upon a peaceful gathering in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar. Colonel Reginald Dyer, the acting military commander for Amritsar and its environs, blocked the exit, without warning the crowd to disperse and ordered the troops to fire upon the densest sections of the crowd. After about ten minutes of firing, about 1,650 rounds were spent. While the official figure of casualties was pegged at 379, the actual figure was a lot higher.

The incident led to condemnation and outrage and Rabindranath Tagore also renounced his British Knighthood as a mark of protest.

Udham Singh, born on 26th December 1899, held Michael D’wyer, who was the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab when Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place, responsible for the massacre. He was deeply influenced by Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary group, which, in 1928, in a bid to avenge Lala Lajpat Rai’s death, attempted to assassinate James A. Scott, the superintendent of police in Lahore who had ordered lathi charge and personally assaulted Lala Lajpat Rai. Unfortunately, in a case of mistaken identity, the plotters shot John P. Saunders, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, as he was leaving the District Police Headquarters in Lahore instead.

In 1924, Udham Singh got involved with Ghadar Party, a multi-ethnic party, which challenged the hold of British Empire and is also known for setting the foundation for future Indian revolutionary movements for the Indian independence movement. In 1927, on instructions from Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh returned to India bringing with him 25 associates as well as revolvers and ammunition. However, he was arrested for possession of unlicensed arms and was sentenced to five years in prison.

He was released in 1931, but his movements were constantly under surveillance. In 1934, he reached London where he worked as an engineer, while privately forming plans to assassinate Michael D’wyer. 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, the one who actually led the troops.

On 13th March 1940 when Michael D’wyer was scheduled to speak at a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Central Asian Society at Caxton Hall, London, Udham Singh entered the hall with a revolver he had earlier purchased. As the meeting concluded, Singh shot O’Dwyer twice as he moved towards the speaking platform, with one bullet passing through his heart and right lunch, killing him instantly.

Udham Singh was arrested and tried for the killing. On 1st April 1940, he was formally charged with the murder of Michael D’wyer and while awaiting his trial, he went on a 42-day hunger strike where he had to be forcibly fed. Singh was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. On 31st July 1940, four months after he was charged for the murder, he was hanged at Pentonville Prison. Udham Singh’s remains are still preserved at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar.

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