The Rohillas were originated from the Pashtu roots of the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and comprised of many warmonger tribes and sub-tribes of Pathans. Thousands of them were inducted in the Mughal army by Emperor Aurangzeb to fight and subdue the Rajputs. Slowly and steadily they took control of a large area where they were stationed. It included the districts of Bareilly, Rampur and the neighbouring regions in today’s UP, and renamed it as Rohilkhand. With time, the number of the Rohillas increased, as many members of the tribe started to migrate from Afghanistan to settle in and around the Katehar region and created a distinct cultural, linguistic and a territorial identity of their own. As the Mughal Empire became weak, they declared independence and soon became a power to reckon with. In the third Battle of Panipat (1761), they helped the Afghan Shah Abdali against the Marathas.
But the Rohillas were constantly threatened by the Marathas, for which they wanted help from the Nawab of Awadh, Shuja-ud-Daula. The Nawab promised to help the Rohillas, but in return demanded a sum of Rs. Forty lakh from the Rohillas. To fight against the Marathas, Shuja-ud-Daula also sought the help of the British army, to which the British readily agreed, as the Marathas were a threat for them also. Accordingly, with the help of the British army, the Nawab fought against the Marathas and ousted them. But after the war, the Rohillas refused to pay the promised money to Nawab Shuja-ud-Daulah and as a result, a war broke out between the Nawab and the Rohillas. This time, the Nawab again took the support of the British army. On the 23rd of April 1774, The Rohillas, led by Hafiz Rahmat Ali Khan, had to face the combined forces of the Nawab and the army of the East India Company, led by Colonel Alexander Champion. The Rohilla territory was invaded, Hafiz Rahmat Ali Khan was killed in the battle and the Rohillas were ousted to a place known as Miran Katra. The whole of Rohilkhand was annexed by Awadh. After the battle, the remaining little wealth of the Rohillas was plundered, the ethnic cleansing by the Shia Shuja-ud-Daulah was unleashed, thousands of villages were burned, women were raped and thousands of men and women were slaughtered. To take the advantage of the situation, the Sikh raiders attacked the weakened Rohillas and forced them to leave their villages. The retreating Rohilla population settled in small numbers wherever they could find asylum. Finally, The British established a small protected Rohilla state in Rampur and let the Rohilla chief Faizullah Khan continue as its Nawab.
After the death of Faizullah Khan in 1793, his ill-tempered sons began contending with each other for the throne of Rampur. As a result, the Company was forced to intervene again for maintaining peace and General Abercromby led the British forces in the Second Rohilla War in 1794. The Rohillas were completely defeated in the war and about 25.000 Rohilla soldiers were executed.
Following the end of the Rohilla War, the British constructed a comparatively small Memorial within the compound of St. John’s Church, Calcutta, to commemorate their fallen comrades, though they were relatively small in number. The beautiful monument with a height of about 45 feet, has a plaque fixed at the side of its base, with the names of the military officers killed in action.
Location of Rohilla War Memorial