patriot from the Punjab, Udham Singh came to London in the 1930s as a fighter against foreign colonial rule in India. British
rule was one of the darkest eras in the history of our people. Many crimes and atrocities were committed, but one that stood
out in particular was the massacre of innocent, unarmed civilians at Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar in 1919. The British ruling
circles, then as now the self proclaimed upholders of civilisation, refused to punish those guilty of this heinous crime,
and in fact heaped public honours upon them. Accounted for by nobody, Jallianwalla Bagh remained a blot upon the dignity of
the oppressed people of India.
It was Udham Singh who made a pact with death
and undertook to execute Michael O'Dwyer, former Governor of Punjab and one of the main perpetrators of the massacre at Jallianwalla
Bagh. On 13 March 1940, he shot O'Dwyer at a public meeting in London. On 31 July, he was hanged in Pentonville prison. He
made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of the dignity and honour of the Indian people, irrespective of their regional or religious
backgrounds, and for this he is remembered as a Shaheed or martyr, immortal in the memory of all freedom-loving peoples of
Why we are celebrating the memory of Shaheed Udham Singh?
Shaheed Udham Singh represented the best traditions of the
people of the South Asian sub-continent: courage and the spirit of self sacrifice in the fight against oppression, and unity
in struggle irrespective of religious, communal or ethnic background. Today, when all over the sub-continent the political
situation is in ferment, the age-old conflict between the exploiters and the exploited and between enlightenment and backwardness
is once again reaching its climax.
The struggle is also being waged for our true traditions.
The rulers of Delhi and Islamabad are following in the footsteps of the British colonialists like O'Dwyer. Half a century
after Shaheed Udham Singh's martyrdom, our "lords" and "masters" are continuing in Kashmir, Punjab and countless other places
what O'Dwyer began in Jallianwalla Bagh. Just like O'Dwyer, they label anybody opposing their repression as a terrorist, while
they themselves carry out mass terror against the people. Behind every act of defiance by the people, the rulers of India
and Pakistan see a foreign hand. Yet it is they themselves who gladly sell the sovereignty of the people for a few coins thrown
to them by foreign banks and multinational companies. On top of all this, the rulers of our countries are expanding their
armies and making noises about starting a war in the region.
Those who have inherited the mantle of British colonialism
and O'Dwyer do their utmost to make the people forget about the real message of their heroes, be it the Bhaktas or the Sufis,
or early patriots like Tipu Sultan, or the fighters of the First War of Indian Independence (1857), or the Ghadarites, or,
indeed, martyrs like Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh. The people, on the other hand, must uphold the names and work of these
In Britain the state is pressurising immigrants to abandon
their traditions and to "assimilate". Although these suggestions may sound harmless to some, their real implications are revealed
when well-known apologists for racism use these views to whip up chauvinism against our communities. This was done when Mr.
Norman Tebbit demanded that immigrant and national minority communities forget about their countries of origin. Since last
year in particular, when there was a storm of protest over Salman Rushdie's book, an unprecendented campaign has been launched
by the ruling circles against the Asian communities in Britain.
Everything connected with the sub-continent is portrayed as
barbaric and medieval. The true progressive traditions of the people are obscured, while backward practices are promoted as
the real manifestations of Asian culture. The youth in particular is singled out for this barrage.
A people oblivious of their own past are like a ship without
bearings - drifting aimlessly till it runs aground. The people from the South Asian region living in Britain must unite with
all the working people and democratic forces here. But this does not mean that they should forget about their own history
and culture. It is necessary to defy those who would have us give up our traditions by boldly proclaiming our best traditions,
such as those personified by Shaheed Udham Singh.
These are some of the reasons why we think it
important to celebrate the anniversary of Shaheed Udham Singh's martyrdom in a spirit that is in keeping with his spirit of
devotion to the cause of freedom.
Life and work of Udham Singh
Udham Singh was born in 1899 in a village called Sunam in
Punjab. His father, Sardar Tehl Singh was a small farmer. Udham Singh lost his mother at the early age of three,
and his father died when he was only five years old. He was brought up by the Khalsa Orphanage in Amritsar.
Udham Singh was an apprentice carpenter in Amritsar in 1919,
at the time of the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. He was present at the meeting and, according to some accounts, was engaged
as a helper, carrying drinking water to the participants. The brutality of the massacre left an indelible impression
on his mind. He turned to revolutionary politics and dedicated his whole life to the cause of the people. Around that
time he left India and traveled to the U.S. where he linked up with the Ghadarites and began working for them. His duties
included driving new arrivals from India to secure destinations and making arrangements for their stays abroad. He then
received a message e from his comrade-in-arms, Bhagat Singh, who instructed him to return to India with a consignment of weapons.
Udham Singh returned to India in 1927 with some firearms,
but he was betrayed and arrested soon after his arrival. He was sentenced to four years in prison. This was the
period of the violent campaign in the Punjab against the colonial government, led by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association
of Bhagat Singh and Chandarshehkar Azad. The campaign ended following the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru
Udham Singh was still in prison at that time.
When he was released, he vowed to follow in the footsteps of his comrade and hero Bhagat Singh and avenge the Jallianwala
Bagh massacre. He was fond of singing the famous ghazal by Bismal:
"Sarfaroshi ki tamana ab hamare dil men hai Dekhna hai
zor kitna baazoo-e-qatil men hai"
(Now that we are happy and willing to lay down
our lives, Does the enemy have enough strength in his sword-arm?)
Udham Singh managed to give the police a slip and fled
abroad for a second time. He traveled widely, visiting Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Germany and Russia, making contact with
Indian revolutionaries abroad wherever he went. Finally, in 1933, he arrived in Britain using the name Ram Mohammed
Singh Azad. He established links with the then tiny Indian community in London, as well as other freedom-fighters, including
Udham Singh had planned to execute Michael O'Dwyer in order
to restore the dignity of the Indian people which had been sullied by their slavery to British imperialism. Jallianwalla
Bagh was a most sordid chapter in the colonial history of our land, and Udham Singh believed that the Indian people must have
the final word before closing this chapter once and for all.
He worked as a handyman and driver in O'Dwyer's
hometown in Devon. In the course of this, he had many opportunities to execute O'Dwyer and escape unnoticed. He
was not, however, interested in taking any action that could have been interpreted as the work of a lone assassin, devoid
of its political implications. Instead, he waited patiently for seven years until an opportunity presented itself when
he could make a public statement by his action. On 13 March 1940, a meeting was held in Caxton Hall in London by an association
of retired and serving British colonial officials in India. The chief guest was Michael O'Dwyer, and other speakers
included men from the highest echelons of British colonial power in India. At the end of the meeting Udham Singh shot
O'Dwyer and five other colonial "dignitaries", killing O'Dwyer and wounding the others.
Ram Mohammed Singh Azad
Udham Singh gave himself up and
publicly stated his motives for the attack. Under interrogation he consistently used the name of Ram Mohammed Singh
Azad. Even after the police had established the true facts about him including his real name, he did not abandon the
use of this alias. This caused some irritation to his captors who could not understand Udham Singh's reason for
sticking to an alias when it had been exposed as false. What they failed to appreciate was that this brave freedom-fighter,
instead of being unnerved in the face of a death penalty, was making a final gesture for the unity of the Indian people against
colonial slavery. By making such a gesture, Udham Singh proclaimed to the whole world that his sacrifice was in the
name of the Indian people, regardless of their religious or other differences. On 31 July 1940, Udham Singh joined the proud
ranks of his comrade Shaheed Bhagat Singh and the countless others before him who did not flinch from making the ultimate
sacrifice for the freedom of their homeland and the rights of the people. They occupy a place of honour in the hearts
of the freedom-loving peoples of the South Asian sub-continent.