On Monday, December 26, the 112th birthday of the great martyr Shaheed Udham Singh was celebrated. He was born in the Sangrur District of Punjab and became an orphan at the age of eight. A simple man, whose life was changed by the events of April 19, 1919. This ultimately led him to sacrifice his own life.
Soldiers armed with rifles and armored vehicles arrived at the Jallianwala Bagh, an open courtyard that served as a resting place for pilgrims coming to the Golden Temple for Baisakhi in Amritsar. The armored vehicles could not get through the narrow walkway. Brig. Gen. Dyer walked his troops in and ordered them to open fire on the unarmed crowd without warning. Over 1600 rounds were fired. Nearly 2,000 were massacred including women and children. The firing only stopped when the soldiers ran out of ammunition. This event came to be known as the “Amritsar Massacre” and served as the catalyst for India’s independence. The man at the head of this crime was the Governor of Punjab Sir Michael O’ Dwyer who wanted “to teach the Indians a lesson, to make a wide impression and to strike terror through-out Punjab”. He wanted to prevent any form of revolt or organization against the British with a firm hand.
Udham Singh was a witness to this carnage. The shaken up young man went to the Golden Temple, bathed in the holy pool and took an oath to administer justice to the perpetrators of this crime and to restore the honor of his nation. He travelled to Africa, USA, and many parts of Europe. He became a close friend of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and worked with the freedom fighters movement but when he was executed Udham Singh embarked on his finally journey. He went to Germany, Ireland and then England.
Nearly twenty one years after the massacre and six years after arriving in England Udham Singh told his friends that the foundation of the British Empire would shake the next day. Be ready to celebrate Diwali he told them. The next day, March 13, 1940 at the Caxton Hall in London, he would deliver justice to the man that he had also befriended, Sir Michael O’Dwyer. The murderer and former Governor of Punjab who had ruled with an evil hand died on the spot from two shots. Udham Singh turned himself in and was tried in London.
The courts found him guilty and sentenced him to hanging. Udham Singh was executed on July 31, 1940 and buried at the Pentonville Prison. All court records were to be kept secret and a ban was placed by a special order on all documentation for 100 years.
Thirty four years later, in July 1974 Udham Singh’s remains were exhumed and repatriated to India. Sadhu Singh Thind, an MLA from Punjab, led this effort. The digging up of the body was done in secrecy by the British government and the story was not leaked to the media in England.
The scene was different in India where the remains were given a hero’s welcome in New Delhi. Respect was paid by the Prime Minister and President. The body lay in state and was later taken around the country. Finally, the story ended where it started, at the “Jallianwala Bagh”. The site of the massacre brought thousands. They came to pay their final respect before the cremation at his birthplace.
The BBC made a documentary on Shaheed Udham Singh called “The Equalizer”.
It can be viewed at: http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=-194896814503356523&hl=en-GB
THE NEGLECTED DESCENDENT:
Udham Singh’s Grandson Jeet Singh Is A Lowly Labourer
Shaheed Udham Singh’s grandson “Jeet Singh” works as a laborer in Punjab. The family has never received any compensation or support from the government. How ironic that a man can give his life for his country and the country in return gives him nothing. He could have “sold out” at any time to the British and lived a life of luxury. Financial stability would have also been secured for many generations of his family. Instead they are working in demeaning conditions. Many political leaders have made promises including the last President Zail Singh but none has come through. Jeet Singh lives in Sangrur village of Punjab with his two sons.
Shivnath Jha and Neena Jha, the husband and wife journalist team from Delhi published the book “Heroes & Martyrs: Their Neglected Descendants 1857-1947”. They cover the stories of 22 families of freedom fighters’ descendents. “We have come a long way since India became independent on 15th August 1947. But it is ironical that the present generation of India does not even know how many young people and freedom fighters laid down their lives for the sake of the country. Even more ironical is the fact that not even five percent population of this huge nation actually remembers those who died during the freedom struggle”.