Chandigarh, July 31: When Justice Atkinson started the proceedings in central criminal court, Old Bailey, London, and asked his name as part of the procedure, he answered, “Ram Mohammad Singh Azad”. That was Udham Singh who had avenged the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh by gunning down former Punjab Lt Governor Michael O’ Dwyer in Caxton Hall, London, on March 13, 1940. After a quick trial, he was hanged at Pentonville Prison on July 31, 1940 and buried within the prison compound. His remains were brought back in 1974 for cremation and the ashes are preserved at his native town Sunam.
His caste was perhaps not known or little known when he jumped into the revolutionary struggle to liberate his country not only from the colonialists but from the system also. However, he did not know that he would be hanged again and again by some people in free India who have tried to appropriate the legacy of the revolutionary by projecting him as Udham Singh Kamboj. Revolutionaries don’t deserve such humiliation.
Bhagat Singh, Kartar Singh Sarabha and Udham Singh are not known by their castes but their struggle and sacrifice. Shaheed Bhagat Singh made extra-ordinary contribution at that young age at the doctrinal level also as he was a prolific writer who elaborated at length his vision of society for the creation of which he and his associates were fighting for. They were not fighting for promoting casteism and parochialism.
Former chief election commissioner Dr S Y Quraishi at a round table discussion yesterday at the Institute for Development and Communications had made an interesting observation about this biggest democracy saying it has turned more casteist and communal. Appropriation of the legacy Shaheed Udham Singh Azad alias Ram Mohammad Singh Azad by these casteists reinforces that thesis at another level.
Born on December 26, 1899 as Sher Singh at Sunam in Sangrur district, he was brought up at Central Khalsa Orphanage, Amritsar after the death of his parents. He was given the name of Udham Singh after baptism. He left Amritsar after Jallianwala Bagh massacre on April 13, 1919 that shocked him, like every Hindustani. He was an eye witness to the massacre serving water to the protesters.
He left Amritsar and went abroad the same year. He returned to Punjab in 1924 but left again within a few months and landed in USA where he came in contact with the members of the Ghadar Party, the revolutionary party of India expatriates. He returned again in 1927 and was in touch with Bhagat Singh. he was arrested and jailed under Arms Act, to be released in 1931. He escaped to Germany and reached London in 1934.
He gunned down Michael O’Dwyer on March 13, 1940 and made no effort to escape. He was hanged on July 31 and his body buried in the prison compound.
It was in 1974 that moves were initiated to bring back his remains. Udham Singh's remains were exhumed and repatriated to India in July that year.
Like in case of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Mahatama Gandhi reacted in his own way attacking his action of gunning down the former Punjab Governor saying, "We had our differences with Michael O'Dwyer but that should not prevent us from being grieved over his assassination. We have our grievances against Lord Zetland. We must fight his reactionary policies, but there should be no malice or vindictiveness in our resistance. The accused is intoxicated with the thought of bravery" (Harijan, March 15 and 23, 1940). This was the magazine brought out by Gandhi. Jawaharlal Nehru too “regretted” the action. However, years later, he amended himself.
But then the bigger crime against the martyr has been committed by those who have started projecting him as a Kamboj hero that goes against the concept of Hindustani legacy, the Hindustan that then included Pakistan and Bangladesh.
These revolutionaries should be honoured as common heroes cutting across artificial physical boundaries that are accident of history. But then geographical maps in the world keep on changing.