Q&A: What are some facts related to Shaheed Udham Singh?

By Sunil Kumar

Another one of my Quora answers;

The Qtn: What are some facts related to Shaheed Udham Singh?

Udham Singh

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Quoting from Yasmin Khan’s “India At War: The Subcontinent and the Second World War”;

“On the evening of 13 March 1940 Shaheed Udham Singh shot dead a seventy-four-year-old man at Caxton Hall, in the heart of Westminster, a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and within minutes of the Houses of Parliament. The victim was Michael O’Dwyer, who had been the Governor of Punjab at the time of the Amritsar massacre in 1919. He had been taking part in a discussion on the future of Afghanistan. The BBC broke the news on the nine o’clock bulletin.”

He shot the retired governor twice in the chest with a revolver and the former Raj official died shortly afterwards. In the trial that followed, Singh declared loudly that he had sought retribution for O’Dwyer’s role in imposing martial law and defending the perpetrators of the Amritsar killings at the end of the First World War, almost exactly twenty-one years earlier.

When Scotland Yard released the files on his trial they revealed his reaction when the judge gave the verdict: he spat and swore ‘against the King and Emperor’ and declared that he wasn’t afraid of death and that when he had gone ‘thousands of [my] countrymen would drive you dirty dogs out of my country’.

The Caxton Hall assassination was carried out at a time when Britain was intensely vulnerable. The assassination shrank the distance between Amritsar and London, collapsing time between 1919 and 1940. It brought back to the newspapers, and to the memories of many, the bloody scenes at Jallianwala Bagh, where hundreds of innocent men, women and children had died. ”

Flag of Azad Hind

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“Udham Singh’s case was a gift for the Nazi propaganda machine and within hours of the news the British Nazi ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ was broadcasting on the subject from Berlin. The case was conducted in camera with a small number of spectators and the transcripts of the trial were kept closed until the mid-1990s. The jury found Udham Singh guilty of murder and he was sentenced to hang”

Indian press and politicians(read the Congress Party) of the time distanced themselves from the killing.

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.” Bergeret from Rome praised Singh’s action as courageous. In March 1940, Indian National Congress leader Jawahar Lal Nehru, condemned the action of Singh as senseless. 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.

Some members of the British public wrote letters pleading against the death penalty for Singh. Joyce Tarring wrote to the Secretary of State for India from a hotel in Cumberland to say that ‘it would be a great act of clemency which would touch the heart of India’. Another woman from Hampstead was concerned that ‘there is a real danger of this affair being misinterpreted in India’. The scholar and champion of Indian rights Edward Thompson also urged the Secretary of State for India to show leniency.

In 1974, Singh’s remains were exhumed and repatriated to India at the request of MLA Sadhu Singh Thind. Singh Thind accompanied the remains back to India, where the casket was received by Indira Gandhi, Shankar Dayal Sharma and Zail Singh. Udham Singh was later cremated in his birthplace of Sunam in Punjab and his ashes were scattered in the Sutlej river. In 1995; the Mayawati government in U.P named a district in present-day Uttarakhand after him. Many Indians regarded Singh’s action as justified and an important step in India’s struggle to end British colonial rule.


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