Bumiputra (Sanskrit, translated literally, it means "sons of the Earth") or sometimes spelled as Bumiputera is an official definition widely used in Malaysia, embracing ethnic Malays as well as other indigenous ethnic groups.
In conventional sense, it is generally considered that all Malays are Bumiputras and that all Bumiputras are Malay. This is technically incorrect, as there are cases of non-Malays declared as bumiputra, and similarly of Malays (who are not Muslim) who are not considered Bumiputra. However, the definition of Bumiputra clearly excludes ethnic Chinese. Some Indians are similarly excluded.
This confusion is compounded by the fact that different ministries of the government may have different definitions themselves. What is not obscure is that legally-based preferential racial bias in favour of Bumiputras is built into the Malaysian constitution. Racial policies were a major key of Mahathir bin Mohamad's policies during his reign as Prime Minister from 1981 until 2003, as laid out in his own book The Malay Dilemma (1970).
The Malaysian Federal Constitution has clauses specifically addressing the area of Malay rights but does not explicitly protect any Bumiputra rights per se. Article 153 states that:
The Constitution defines Malays as being one who "professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom".
Certain pro-bumiputra policies known as the Bumiputra Laws exist as a means of affirmative action for bumiputras. Such policies include quotas for the following: admission to government educational institutions, qualification for public scholarships, positions in government and ownership in business. Most of them were established in the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP).
However, the laws stand out as the only current example of public policy where preferential actions benefit the majority race of a country. Since 2000, the Government has discussed phasing out these advantages, and reinstating a "meritocracy". Any meritocracy implemented, it was declared, would be based upon the "Malaysian model".
In 2003, the government began the system of "Malaysian model meritocracy". In the actual implementation, admission to public universities was not based upon a common examination like the SAT or A-Levels but rather upon two parallel systems of a one-year matriculation course and a two-year STPM (literally translated as "Malaysian High (School) Education Certificate") programme. Bumiputras compose an overwhelming majority of entrants to the matriculation programme, leading to some complaints from the public, as the public university entry requirements are perceived to be easier for matriculation students.
Without any common standardised testing, any such allegations cannot be proven one way or another. What can be proven, however, is that in 2004, Dr Amir Shafie in the newly created portfolio as higher education minister said "As the Higher Education Minister, I will ensure the quota of Malay students' entry into universities is always higher". No remarks were made as to the qualification or aptitude of these Malay students.
Also in 2004 Mohd Johari Baharum parliamentary secretary of the Prime Minister's Departmentstated that PSD (Public Services Department) scholarships would remain quota based. He added that there were no plans to convert this to a merit based system. This was in reponse to a question from Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang during the parliamentary question and answer session. He stated that the total value of the PSD scholarship since 1996 was 2.4 billion Ringgit.  (http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/30623)
Some argue that the advantages afforded to bumiputras border on outright racism. Most of these advantages only exist in public policy. Private sector implementation is often to satisfy legal requirements and results in tokenism.
Examples of such policies include:
Mahathir Mohammad spoke of this in 2004:
"We have tried to tell them if you depend on subsidies, you are going to be very weak. But they donít seem to understand. We tell them if you use crutches, you will not be able to stand up. Throw away the crutches, stand up straight because you still have the capacity.
I have talked about this thing and as a doctor I know very well the meaning of crutches but somehow or rather they want the easy way out. If I get an AP and I sell it and make some money, itís all right, they say.
The great debacle was the computer labs. We tried to help as many people as possible because we were accused of giving things to only a selected few. But every one of them sold their contracts. Sold and sold and sold until finally the last man could not sell and had to do the work. He then found he would make terrible losses and so he tried to cut corners, used bad materials and the labs collapsed.
They know it, they see it right before their eyes but they learn nothing. Next time they will do it again."
In 2004 Mahathir Mohammad who had previously been Education Minister, Finance Minister and Prime Minister stated (regarding why Malays could not be hired)
"Why is this only happening to Malay graduates and not Chinese graduates? The reason is probably the Chinese graduates choose the right subjects so they are employable. We find that the Malay graduates, especially those from the Malay stream, canít speak English at all.
No matter how much value you put on a certificate, the fact remains that an employer wants somebody with whom he can communicate. The employer is not Malay, he is a foreigner. And if heís not going to be able to communicate with you, he will not take you.
There is also attitude. There are some who start off by demanding good pay. Obviously, if you ask how much even before he has decided to take you, he wonít think you have the right attitude for the job. So there are many reasons why the Malay graduates are not being employed.
I remember we got companies to hire unemployed Malay graduates and pay them RM400 each. But when they got the job, they refused to do anything because it was not their line and they didnít want to learn. They were just marking time, waiting for the kind of job they were interested in. Obviously, these people do not have the right attitude towards work.
You (the media) should do a survey. Ask them why they are unemployed; have they ever received any offer; did they make an application, did they apply only for jobs they were qualified for or for other jobs; are they prepared to accept lower pay? Some kind of survey should be carried out, then we will know the real reasons."
Some argue that the legal and economic advantages are necessary for Malaysia to reduce ethnic conflict. The NEP, in particular, was spurred by large racial riots on May 13, 1969.