ŪDHAM SIṄGH (1899-1940), a militant nationalist, was born Sher Siṅgh on 26 December 1899, at Sunām, in the then princely state of Paṭiālā. His father, Ṭahal Siṅgh, was at that time working as a watchman on a railway crossing in the neighbouring village of Upalī. Sher Siṅgh lost his parents before he was seven years and was admitted along with his brother Muktā Siṅgh to the Central Khālsā Orphanage at Amritsar on 24 October 1907. As both brothers were administered the Sikh initiatory rites at the Orphanage, they received new names, Sher Siṅgh becoming Ūdham Siṅgh and Muktā Siṅgh Sādhū Siṅgh. In 1917, Ūdham Siṅgh's brother also died, leaving him alone in the world.
Ūdham Siṅgh left the Orphanage after passing the matriculation examination in 1918. He was present in the Jalliāṅvālā Bāgh on the fateful Baisākhī day, 13 April 1919, when a peaceful assembly of people was fired upon by General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, killing over one thousand people. The event which Ūdham Siṅgh used to recall with anger and sorrow, turned him to the path of revolution. Soon after, he left India and went to the United States of America. He felt thrilled to learn about the militant activities of the Babar Akālīs in the early 1920's, and returned home. He had secretly brought with him some revolvers and was arrested by the police in Amritsar, and sentenced to four years' imprisonment under the Arms Act. On release in 1931, he returned to his native Sunām, but harassed by the local police, he once again returned to Amritsar and opened a shop as a signboard painter, assuming the name of Rām Muhammad Siṅgh Āzād. This name, which he was to use later in England, was adopted to emphasize the unity of all the religious communities in India in their struggle for political freedom.
Ūdham Siṅgh was deeply influenced by the activities of Bhagat Siṅgh and his revolutionary group. In 1932, when he was on a visit to Kashmīr, he was found carrying Bhagat Siṅgh's portraiit. He invariably referred to him as his gurū. He loved to sing political songs, and was very fond of Rām Prasād Bismal, who was the leading poet of the revolutionaries. After staying for some months in Kashmīr, Ūdham Siṅgh left India. He wandered about the continent for some time, and reached England by the mid-thirties. He was on the lookout for an opportunity to avenge the Jalliāṅvālā Bāgh tragedy. The long-waited moment at last came on 13 March 1940. On that day, at 4.30 p.m. in the Caxton Hall, London, where a meeting of the East India Association was being held in conjunction with the Royal Central Asian Society, Ūdham Siṅgh fired five to six shots from his pistol at Sir Michael O'Dwyer, who was governor of the Punjab when the Amritsar massacre had taken place. O'Dwyer was hit twice and fell to the ground dead and Lord Zetland, the Secretary of State for India, who was presiding over the meeting was injured. Udham Siṅgh was overpowered with a smoking revolver. He in fact made no attempt to escape and continued saying that he had done his duty by his country.
On 1 April 1940, Ūdham Siṅgh was formally charged with the murder of Sir Michael O'Dwyer. On 4 June 1940, he was committed to trial, at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, before Justice Atkinson, who sentenced him to death. An appeal was filed on his behalf which was dismissed on 15 July 1940. On 31 July 1940, Ūdham Siṅgh was hanged in Pentonville Prison in London.
Ūdham Siṅgh was essentially a man of action and save his statement before the judge at his trial, there was no writing from his pen available to historians. Recently, letters written by him to Shiv Siṅgh Jauhal during his days in prison after the shooting of Sir Michael O'Dwyer have been discovered and published. These letters show him as a man of great courage, with a sense of humour. He called himself a guest of His Majesty King George, and he looked upon death as a bride he was going to wed. By remaining cheerful to the last and going joyfully to the gallows, he followed the example of Bhagat Siṅgh who had been his beau ideal. During the trial, Ūdham Siṅgh had made a request that his ashes be sent back to his country, but this was not allowed. In 1975, however, the Government of India, at the instance of the Punjab Government, finally succeeded in bringing his ashes home. Lakhs of people gathered on the occasion to pay homage to his memory.
Manohar Siṅgh Gill