Vicky Kaushal As Udham Singh On Amazon Prime: Who Was This Revolutionary?

Singh is best known for the assassination of Michael O'Dwyer, who was the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab during the infamous massacre at Jallianwala Bagh.

Archis Chowdhury
Update: 2021-10-15 11:30 GMT

On October 16, Amazon Prime Video is set to release its Vicky Kaushal-starrer Sardar Udham, a biopic on Indian Independence revolutionary Udham Singh.

As part of the Ghadar Party - a political movement by overseas Indians to overthrow British rule in India - Singh was party to many revolutionary activities in India and abroad, being associated with the likes of Bhagat Singh.

However, he is best known for the assassination of Michael O'Dwyer, an Irish officer of Indian Civil Service for the British Empire, who was the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab during the infamous massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar. Due to his authoritative position, and his further endorsement of the massacre, O'Dwyer was held responsible for the incident, along with Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer, who carried out the massacre.

On July 31, 1940 he was hanged at Pentonville Prison in England after being convicted for Dwyer's murder, following a trial at Old Bailey - the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales. However, his life as a revolutionary began 21 years prior to his execution, on the fateful day of the massacre itself.

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Childhood Of Trials

Singh was born as Sher Singh, on December 26, 1899 in the princely state of Patiala. He lost his mother while he was still an infant, and his father - a farmer and a watchman at a railway crossing - also died some years later, leaving Singh orphaned by the age of seven.

Along with his brother Mukta Singh, he ws sent to the Central Khalsa Orphanage at Amritsar when he was just shy of turning eight. Having received his Sikh initiatory rites at the Orphanage, he received a new name - Sher Singh now became Udham Singh.

Ten years later, in 1917, he lost his brother too, making him the only surviving member of his family.

A year after that he left the orphanage, after passing his matriculation exam.

The Oath Of Revenge

On April 13, 1919, Singh and a few friends from the orphanage were serving water to a crowd gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh, on the day of the Baisakhi festival. The crowd had assembled to protest against the arrests of Indian National Congress member Saifuddin Kitchlew and local politician Satyapal under the Rowlatt Act.

To quell what was thought of as potential mutiny, Dyer, under the order of Lieutenant Governor O'Dwyer, ordered his troops to shoot at the crowd. The death toll figures is said to range from 400 to over 1000.

Singh happened to be among those who survived the massacre. Like many others in Punjab and the rest of India, this marked a turning point in the struggle for independence, and eventually led to the non-cooperation movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, and the more violent resistance led by Bhagat Singh and his associates.

Udham Singh, like Bhagat Singh, took a more radical approach to ousting the British from India, and swore to exact revenge on the perpetrators of the massacre.

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Ghadar Party And Arrest

Soon after the massacre, Singh left India for the United States of America.

Nearly a decade before his arrival in the US, another revolutionary, Sohan Singh Bhakna, had founded the Ghadar Party in California. It was a political movement with communist and socialist roots, mostly comprising of overseas Indians, who sought to overthrow the British rule in India.

As Singh arrived in the US, he was soon drawn towards Bhakna and the Ghadar Party, which he eventually joined. In 1927, he came back to India at the behest of fellow Ghadar member Bhagat Singh, and brought with himself a handful of revolvers and ammunition, along with 25 other associates.

However, he got caught and arrested by Punjab police, and the arms and ammunitions he possessed, along with copies of "Ghadr-i-jung" - the party's paper, were confiscated. Singh got five years in prison under the Arms Act.

Exile And The O'Dwyer Assassination

After his release in 1931, Singh headed back to his native town of Sunam, but faced constant harassment from local authorities due to his alliances. He soon moved to Amritsar and opened signboard painting shop, while taking on the name of Ram Muhammad Singh Azad - a name that emphasized the major religions of Punjab, and Singh's sentiments of political freedom.

However, the surveillance on him continued, and he found himself being followed by authorities once again.

He made his way to Kashmir, evading the police on the way, and then eventually escaped to Germany, starting his nearly-decade-long stay in Europe. After hopping from country to country for a few years, he eventually reached London in 1934, where he found an employment as an engineer.

It was while working in London that Singh started secretly plotting the assassination of O'Dwyer.

Here is an excerpt from the book "London Murders: In the Footsteps of the Capital's Killers" by David Long -

"He managed to buy a 0.45 calibre revolver and some ill-matched rounds from a soldier in a pub and decided to bide his time and wait for an occasion when he could kill O'Dwyer and make the maximum impact."

Nearly six years later, Singh got his opportunity.

On April 10, 1940, a joint meeting of East India Association and the Central Asian Society was being held at Caxton Hall in London, and O'Dwyer was scheduled to speak at the meeting. Singh quickly got into action - he hollowed out a book, with the pages inside cut out in the shape of the gun, and presented himself at the meeting.

As O'Dwyer made his way to the platform to speak, Singh shot him twice with his revolver. One of the bullets passed through his heart and lungs, killing him instantly.

He also managed to injure Lawrence Dundas, 2nd Marquess of Zetland, who was at that time the Indian Secretary of State, and a few others who were present there. A jubilant Singh did not attempt to escape, and immediately surrendered.

Murder Trial, Speech And Execution

Singh was formally charged with murder on April 1, 1940, during which he was kept at the Brixton Prison.

During his initial questioning, this is what he reportedly told the British authorities -

"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."

During his trial, Singh took up the alias of Ram Mohammed Singh Azad - a name he had used a decade ago while trying to evade Punjab authorities in Amritsar.

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He is also said to have gone on a 42-day hunger strike during his incarceration, which led to the authorities force feeding him.

The trial was anything but calm - Singh took this as an opportunity to say his last words - and he had a lot to say.

Following an initial discussion about Singh's motive for the crime, Justice Atkinson dissuaded him to make a political speech, and told him to justify why he should not be hanged. "You are only entitled to say why the death sentence should not be passed upon you. You are not to entitle to make a political speech," he said

However, Singh erupted in shouts, "I do not care about sentence of death. It means nothing at all. I do not care about dying or anything. We are suffering from the British Empire."

Singh then gave the following speech, said to be his final -

"I am not afraid to die. I am proud to die. I want to help my native land, and I hope when I have gone, that in my place will come others of my countrymen to drive the dirty dogs. I am standing before an English jury in an English court. You people go to India and when you come back you are given prizes and put into the House of Commons, but when we come to England we are put to death. In my case I do not care about it, but when you dirty dogs come to India - the intellectuals they call themselves, the rulers - they are of bastard blood caste, and they order machine guns to fire on Indian students without hesitation… Machine guns on the streets of India now down thousands of poor women and children wherever your so-called flag of democracy and Christianity flies. I have nothing against the public at all. I have more English friends in England than I do in India. I have nothing against the public. I have great sympathy with the workers of England, but I am against the dirty British Government. You people are suffering the same as I am suffering through those dirty dogs and mad beasts. India is only slavery. Killing, mutilating and destroying. We know what is going on in India, people do not read about it in the press. Hundreds of thousands of people being killed by your dirty dogs…"

Justice Atkinson passed the sentence - condemning him to death. Singh was hanged on July 31, 1940, at the Pentonville Prison near London. He had wished his remains to be sent to India - a wish that was only granted 34 years after his death.

His remains are now preserved at the Jallianwala Bagh, as one of the martyrs.

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