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Sabera Bhayat

Research Overview

I am a fourth year doctoral student in the History Department, at the University of Warwick. My research is supervised by Dr Sarah Hodges and is kindly funded through the History Departmental Doctoral Scholarship. My project is provisionally titled: ‘The Problem of Polygamy in Modern India, 1880s-1940s’ and explores the interlinking legal and cultural history of polygamy in modern South Asia. Building on my Master’s research, which explored social reforms for Indian women in late colonial India, this project highlights a problematic area of reform for Indian Muslim women. My research analyses the perceived ‘problem of polygamy’ alongside the discursive construction of the ‘polygamous Muslim male’, which saw the discursive inventions of ‘excessive husbands’ and ‘invisible wives’.

The issue of polygamy became something of a phenomenon in Muslim reform conversations, the women’s movement, and nationalist debates throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This research explores the many different versions of the kind of problem polygamy came to be for different groups in India.

Polygamy has remained a controversial issue in India, and the ‘problem of polygamy’ still holds contemporary relevance, as Muslim personal law has remained largely unchanged since its legislative enactment by the colonial government in the 1930s, raising questions of gender inequalities under personal laws, and contributing to ongoing discourses on the relevance of a uniform civil code for all cultural groups in India.

Through an examination of native texts and periodicals, missionary sources and government records, this research will demonstrate how individual bodily practices were seen as a linchpin for effecting greater social changes. Western notions of modernity, and normative sexual practices influenced Indian reformers to transform such bodily practices in the interests of what they hoped to achieve, not only in their objectives of a progression towards modernity, but in the context of nationalism and the diverse notions of national identity within it.

Research Interests

History of modern South Asia, gender, sexuality, and feminisms, nationalism, the history of Islam in South Asia, minorities, race and religion.

Academic Profile
  • PhD History, University of Warwick, 2016-2020
    'The Problem of Polygamy in Modern India, 1880s-1940s'. Supervised by Professor Sarah Hodges
  • MA History, University of Warwick, 2014-2016.
    Dissertation Title: 'Education and Evangelisation: The Missionary Affect in Indian Women's Social Reform, 1880-1940'. Supervised By Professor Sarah Hodges
  • BA (hons) History, The Open University, 2010-2014
Scholarships and Awards

2016 - Departmental Doctoral Scholarship

2014 - Warwick Taught Master's Scholarship

2010 - The Open University Fee and Maintenance Grant


HI153: Making of the Modern World, 2020

Conference Papers and Workshops

January 2020 - (Upcoming) 'The Role of Urdu Periodicals in the Indian Muslim Women's Movement, 1898-1961', Print Unbound: The Making/Unmaking of Newspapers and Periodicals in South Asia, Royal Asiatic Society, London.

March 2019 - 'Christianisation and Civilisation: Colonialist and Missionary Constructions of Indian Muslim Sexuality, 1860-1910', The British Empire: Networks, Mobilities, Culture, University of Warwick.

July 2018 – ‘Wives Talk Back: Muslim Women’s Discourses on Polygamy and Marriage Reform in Early Twentieth Century India’, 25th European Conference on South Asian Studies (ECSAS), Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

July 2017 - 'The Problem of Polygamy among Women's Groups and Muslim Male Reformers in Late Colonial North India, 1900-1940', Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: Postgraduate Perspectives, University of Leicester.

June 2017 - Changing Landscapes of Gender In/equality: Theories, Policies and Mobilisations,Global Research Priorities, International Development Postgraduate Conference 2017, University of Warwick.

May 2017 - 'Muslim Women and Legal Reform: Polygamy and 'Gendered' Rights under Personal Laws in Twentieth Century South Asia', White Rose South Asia Network Inaugural Graduate Workshop, University of Leeds.

April 2017 - 'Polygamy and Muslim Personal Law: The Legal reform of Muslim Women's Rights in Twentieth Century South Asia', British Association of South Asian Studies Annual Conference 2017, University of Nottingham.

May 2016 - 'Child Marriage and Female Education: Hindu and Muslim Women's Social Reform in Late Colonial India, between the years 1885-1940', University of Warwick History Postgraduate Conference 2016.


'Using Urdu Periodicals to Uncover Women's Voices in India', Endangered Archives Blog, The British Library, Jan 2020.

'Victim Blaming: The Patriarchy of Sex Crimes', Oct 2019.

Memberships and Associations
Skills in South Asian Languages

English (native), Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati (fluent in reading and speaking)

Additional Responsibilities and Experience

Organising committee member for the Centre for the Study of Women and Gender Seminar Series, University of Warwick, 2020-1.

Exam invigilation, University of Warwick, 2017

Student Staff Liaison Committee Member, Student Representative, 2015-16.

History live guide (volunteer) at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, 2012-13.


Sabera Bhayat

Office Hours:
Friday, 10am-11am
Book here

Office hours take place via MS Teams





Urdu Women's Magazine Tahzib un-Niswan, (Lahore, 1898-1950)


Indian women increasingly engaged in public activity in the early 20th century to improve their social conditions

shah nawaz

Begum Jahanara Shah Nawaz took the first public and most controversial stand against polygamy in 1918


Indian Muslim women in the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andholan continue to campaign against unfair practises in marriage and divorce