Udham Singh

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Shaheed Udham Singh
Born 26 December 1899
Sunam, Punjab, British India
Died 31 July 1940(1940-07-31) (aged 40)
Barnsbury, England, United Kingdom
Organization Ghadar Party, Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, Indian Workers' Association
Movement Indian independence movement

Udham Singh (26 December 1899 – 31 July 1940), was a Punjabi revolutionary and freedom fighter belonging to the Ghadar Party best known for assassinating Michael O' Dwyer, the former Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab in India, on 13 March 1940. The assassination was in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919.[1] Singh was subsequently tried and convicted of murder and hanged in July 1940.

Udham Singh is a well-known figure of the Indian independence movement. He is sometimes referred to as Shaheed-i-Azam Sardar Udham Singh (the expression "Shaheed-i-Azam," Urdu: شہِیدِاعظم‎, means "the great martyr"). A district (Udham Singh Nagar) of Uttarakhand was named after him to pay homage in October 1995 by the then Mayawati government.[2]

Early life[edit]

Udham Singh was born as Sher Singh on 26 December 1899, at Sunam in the Sangrur district of Punjab, India. He belonged to Kamboj family of Jammu gotra (sub-caste) and by his historic martyrdom upheld the valiant Kshatriya tradition of the Kambojas, a tradition which they have always kept up since their glorious Vedic Aryan days.[3] His father, Sardar Tehal Singh Jammu, was a railway crossing watchman in the village of Upalli.

After his father's death, Singh and his elder brother, Mukta Singh, Were taken in by the Central Khalsa Orphanage Putlighar in Amritsar. At the orphanage, Singh was administered the Sikh initiatory rites and received the name of Udham Singh. He passed his matriculation examination in 1918 and left the orphanage in 1919.

Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh[edit]

On 10 April 1919, a number of local leaders allied to the Indian National Congress including Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew were arrested under the Rowlatt Act. Protestors against the arrests were fired on by British troops, precipitating a riot. On 13 April, over twenty thousand unarmed People were assembled in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar to protest against the act. Udham Singh and his friends from the orphanage were serving water to the crowd.[4][verification needed]

Troops were dispatched by Governor Michael O'Dwyer, under the command of Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer. Dyer ordered his troops to fire without warning on the assembled crowd in Jallianwala Bagh. Since the only exit was barred by soldiers, people tried to escape by climbing the park walls or jumping into a well for protection. An estimated 1,800 people were killed and over 1,200 were wounded.[5] Udham Singh was deeply affected by the event. The governor of Punjab, Michael O'Dwyer, had ordered the massacre, and Udham Singh held him responsible.[4][verification needed]Udham Singh became involved in revolutionary politics and was deeply influenced by Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary group.[6] In 1924, Udham Singh became involved with the Ghadar Party, organizing Indians overseas towards overthrowing colonial rule. In 1927, he returned to India on orders from Bhagat Singh, bringing 25 associates as well as revolvers and ammunition. Soon after, he was arrested for possession of unlicensed arms. Revolvers, ammunition, and copies of a prohibited Ghadar Party paper called "Ghadr-i-Gunj" ("Voice of Revolt") were confiscated. He was prosecuted and sentenced to five years in prison.

Upon his release from prison in 1931, Singh's movements were under constant surveillance by the Punjab police. He made his way to Kashmir, where he was able to evade the police and escape to Germany. In 1934, he reached London, where he found employment as an engineer. Privately, he formed plans to assassinate Michael O'Dwyer.[7][8] 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.[9]

Shooting in Caxton Hall[edit]

On 13 March 1940, Michael O'Dwyer was scheduled to speak at a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Central Asian Society (now Royal Society for Asian Affairs) at Caxton Hall, London. Singh concealed a revolver he had earlier purchased from a soldier in a pub inside his jacket pocket,[10] then entered the hall, and found an open seat. As the meeting concluded, Singh shot O'Dwyer twice as he moved towards the speaking platform. One of these bullets passed through O'Dwyer's heart and right lung, killing him almost immediately.[9] Others injured in the shooting included Sir Louis Dane, Lawrence Dundas, 2nd Marquess of Zetland,[11] and Charles Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington. Singh was arrested and tried for the killing.[12]. He tried to kill O'Dwyer and Zetland (who was secretary of State for India affairs in 1919), together to draw attention to British atrocities in India.

Murder trial and execution[edit]

Udham Singh Kamboj (second from the left) being taken from 10 Caxton Hall after the assassination of Michael O'Dwyer

On 1 April 1940, Udham Singh was formally charged with the murder of Michael O'Dwyer, and remanded in custody at Brixton Prison. Initially asked to explain his motivations, Singh—who spoke poor English—stated: I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. I don't belong to society or anything else. I don't care. I don't mind dying. What is the use of waiting until you get old? ... Is Zetland dead? He ought to be. I put two into him? I bought the revolver from a soldier in a public house. My parents died when I was three or four. ... Only one dead? I thought I could get more.[13]

While awaiting his trial, Singh went on a 42-day hunger strike and had to be force fed. On 4 June 1940, his trial commenced at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, before Justice Atkinson, with V.K. Krishna Menon and St. John Hutchison representing him. When asked about his motivation, Kamboj explained:

Wide view of Jallianwala Bagh memorial

I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. He was the real culprit. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I have crushed him. For full 21 years, I have been trying to seek vengeance. I am happy that I have done the job. I am not scared of death. I am dying for my country. I have seen my people starving in India under the British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty. What greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland? [14][verification needed]

Singh was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Following his conviction, he made a speech which the judge directed should not be released to the press.[10]

On 31 July 1940, Singh was hanged at Pentonville Prison. His remains are preserved at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab. On every 31 July, marches are held in Sunam by various organisations and every statue of Singh in the city is paid tribute with flower garlands.


Although many Indians regarded Singh's actions as a response to some brutal aspects of British colonial rule, officially, his actions were deplored and condemned in India, with Mahatma Gandhi referring to Singh's actions as "an act of insanity",[12] stating: "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."[15] The Hindustan Socialist Republican Army condemned Mahatma Gandhi's statement, considering this to be a challenge to the Indian Youths.[16] Pt Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in The National Herald, "[The] assassination is regretted but it is earnestly hoped that it will not have far-reaching repercussions on [the] political future of India."[17]

In its 18 March 1940 issue, Amrita Bazar Patrika wrote, "O'Dwyer's name is connected with Punjab incidents which India will never forget".[18] The Punjab section of Congress in the Punjab Assembly led by Dewan Chaman Lal refused to vote for the Premier's motion to condemn the assassination.[19] In April 1940, at the Annual Session of the All India Congress Committee held in commemoration of 21st anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, the youth wing of the Indian National Congress Party displayed revolutionary slogans in support of Singh, applauding his action as patriotic and heroic.[20]

Singh had some support from the international press. The Times of London called him a "fighter for freedom", his actions "an expression of the pent-up fury of the downtrodden Indian people."[21] Bergeret from Rome praised Singh's action as courageous.[22] In March 1940, Indian National Congress leader Jawahar Lal Nehru, condemned the action of Singh as senseless, however, in 1962, Nehru reversed his stance and applauded Singh with the following published statement: "I salute Shaheed-i-Azam Udham Singh with reverence who had kissed the noose so that we may be free."[19]


In 1974, Singh's remains were exhumed and repatriated to India at the request of MLA Sadhu Singh Thind. Thind accompanied the remains back to India, where the casket was received by Indira Gandhi, Shankar Dayal Sharma and Zail Singh. Udham Singh Kamboj was later cremated in his birthplace of Sunam in Punjab and his ashes were scattered in the Sutlej river. Some of his ashes were retained; these retained ashes are kept inside sealed urn at Jallianwala Bagh.

Ancestral House[edit]

S. Udham Singh ancestral house in Sunam is still conserved, albeit with several modifications to prevent the structure from collapsing. It is located near Anand Chowk in the city. It is not a large mansion, but a small house with a small, old wooden door. If seen from outside, it is old fashioned i.e.- made up of small old bricks without cement layer. From inside, it is well furnished and organised and numerous pictures of Singh and his family are hung on the walls. Also, a library has been established inside the house where the books related to him and his life are kept. Biographies on him by different authors can be found in the collection. A person has also been employed to guide the tourists and also to take care of the place. A register is placed on a table inside the house, in which the visitors fill in their details, their remarks about the place and their suggestions. Till now, many names and suggestions from different parts of the country and abroad have been recorded.



  1. ^ Swami, Praveen (Nov 1997). "Jallianwala Bagh revisited: A look at the actual history of one of the most shocking events of the independence struggle". Frontline. 22. 14. India. pp. 1–14.
  2. ^ Singh, Anand Raj (12 March 2015). "Mayawati may create new district to tame old foe". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  3. ^ Kamboj, Nanak Chand (20 February 2009). "Shaheed Udham Singh – The great martyr". Kamboj Society. Retrieved 10 October 2018.
  4. ^ a b Sikander Singh (2002). Pre-meditated Plan of Jallianwala Massacre and Oath of Revenge, Udham Singh alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad. p. 139.
  5. ^ Stephen Stratford. "British Military & Criminal History".
  6. ^ Academy of Punjab in North America. "Shaheed Udham Singh (1899-1940)".
  7. ^ Dr. Fauja Singh (1972). Eminent Freedom Fighters of Punjab. pp. 239–40.
  8. ^ Singh, Sikander (1998). Udham Singh, alias, Ram Mohammed Singh Azad: a saga of the freedom movement and Jallianwala Bagh. B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh.
  9. ^ a b The Murders of the Black Museum: 1870-1970 ISBN 978-1-854-71160-1 p. 364
  10. ^ a b The Murders of the Black Museum: 1870-1970 ISBN 978-1-854-71160-1 p. 365
  11. ^ Glasgow Herald 19 March 1940
  12. ^ a b The Black Museum ISBN 978-0-316-90332-5 pp. 364-365
  13. ^ The Murders of the Black Museum: 1870-1970 ISBN 978-1-854-71160-1 pp. 364-365
  14. ^ CRIM 1/1177, Public Record Office, London, p. 64
  15. ^ Harijan, 15 March 1940
  16. ^ Singh, Sikander (1998). Udham Singh, alias, Ram Mohammed Singh Azad: a saga of the freedom movement and Jallianwala Bagh. B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh. p. 216.
  17. ^ National Herald, 15 March 1940.
  18. ^ Vinay Lal (May 2008). "Manas: History and Politics, British India - Udham Singh in the Popular Memory". Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  19. ^ a b Singh, Sikander (1998). Udham Singh, alias, Ram Mohammed Singh Azad: a saga of the freedom movement and Jallianwala Bagh. B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh. p. 300.
  20. ^ Manmath Nath Gupta (1970). Bhagat Singh and his Times. Delhi. p. 18.
  21. ^ The Times. London. 16 March 1940. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. ^ Public and Judicial Department, File No L/P + J/7/3822. 10 Caxton Hall outrage. London: India Office Library and Records. pp. 13–14.
  23. ^ "Government of Punjab, India".
  24. ^ "Public Holidays 2016 and 2017".
  25. ^ "Indian pop video honours activist's 1940 killing of British official".

Further reading[edit]

  • Fenech, Louis E. (October 2002). "Contested Nationalisms; Negotiated Terrains: The Way Sikhs Remember Udham Singh 'Shahid' (1899–1940)". Modern Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press. 36 (4): 827–870. doi:10.1017/s0026749x02004031. JSTOR 3876476. (subscription required)
  • An article on Udham Singh—Hero Extraordinary in "The Legacy of The Punjab" by R M Chopra, 1997, Punjabee Bradree, Calcutta.

External links[edit]