Mayawati's recent victory, in May 2007, in the Uttar Pradesh elections has been hailed as a spectacular display of subaltern power. The questions remain: who are these subalterns? To what extent do they form a coherent block, with similar fears, hopes and aspirations, and how are subalterns visions of the state, social justice and equality articulated? This paper explores some of these questions, by examining the example of the boatman community in Banaras, belonging to the Mallah (Nishad) caste, and the strategies they use to be heard as legitimate citizens of the state. Such strategies and techniques reveal a sophisticated and organized apparatus of caste and community associations that call into question some recent theoretical formulations of the Indian state as one dominated and manipulated by powerful elites, while subalterns remain passive or, at best, compliant.