Udham Singh: Who Waited 21 Years to Avenge Man Behind Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

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Jallianwala Bagh Massacre | The General Dyer-led massacre at Amritsar’s Jalianwalla Bagh, in 1919, left an indelible dent on the psyche of millions of Indians but one survivor waited 21 years for revenge by killing the man he held responsible for the atrocity: the then lieutenant governor of Punjab Province, General Michael O'Dyer.

Born on December 26, 1899, in Punjab’s Sangrur district, Udham Singh was among the thousands of people who had gathered at the Jalianwalla Bagh on the fateful day of April 13, 1919, to commemorate the annual Baisakhi festival. The city of Amritsar had already been on the boil over arrests of national leaders. General Michael O'Dyer charged Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer with the task of restoring “law and order.” Wary of the anger that had been brewing among the Indian people against the colonial government’s repressive measures, including forced conscription and levying of heavy taxes, General Dyer banned public gatherings and ordered indiscriminate arrests of people besides other punitive measures.

On April 13, 1919, as thousands of men, women and children gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh, General Dyer ordered his troops to open fire leaving, according to official figures, 379 people dead and nearly 1,200 more wounded.

Udham Singh was brought up by Central Khalsa Orphanage after he lost his parents at an early age. He was at the Jalianwalla Bagh along with his friends from the orphanage to serve water to the large gathering. The massacre scarred him like millions of Indians and he decided to take revenge by killing General Michael O'Dyer.

Udham Singh, 20 at the time of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre, soon travelled to East Africa to work as a labourer before moving to the United States of America, where he met members of the Ghadar Party, a revolutionary group formed by immigrant Punjabi-Sikhs for India’s independence from British rule.

Udham Singh travelled across America to garner support for the Ghadar Party before returning to Punjab in 1927 on the orders of Bhagat Singh whom he considered as his idol. However, he was arrested and jailed for four years for possession of illegal arms and running the Ghadr Party’s publication, Ghadr di Gunj.

Udham Singh was released in 1931 and escaped to Germany by evading police surveillance. He reached England in 1933 with the aim of assassinating General Michael O’Dyer, who had justified the Jalianwala Bagh massacre as a “correct action.”

On March 13 1940, Udham Singh shot General Michael O'Dyer at a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Central Asian Society at Caxton Hall, London. Udham Singh did not flee from the spot and was arrested for the killing. During his trial, Udham Singh said he had waited 21 years to kill General Michael O'Dyer as the British official “wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I crushed him.”

Udham Singh was hanged four months later and his mortal remains were handed over to India in 1974.